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Great Mills High School students return to class for the first time since deadly shooting

Students at Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland on Tuesday returned to class for the first time since a deadly shooting there two weeks ago.

Officials say 17-year-old student Austin Wyatt Rollins walked into the school with his father’s pistol just minutes before the first bell on March 20. He approached classmate Jaelynn Willey, 16, and shot her once in the head. That bullet also struck 14-year-old Desmond Barnes in the leg.

Rollins kept walking through the school after firing the handgun, and he was confronted by school resource officer Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill just after 8 a.m. Their weapons went off simultaneously, officials said, with Rollins fatally shooting himself in the head and Gaskill shooting the boy in the hand.

Willey died two days later, after her family took her off life support.

St. Mary’s County school administrators said there would be extra counselors and mental health providers on site to help students as they return to school. The school was closed for the rest of the week after the shooting, which then led into the system-wide spring break.

The district is also offering 24-hour access to a crisis hotline, at 301-863-6661.

“There are some extra supports in the building and staff we’re prepared to have those conversations when students arrive,” said Jeff Maher, the district’s chief strategic officer.

A group of community members planned to line the sidewalks leading up to the school Tuesday in a show of support for the Great Mills students.

Some Great Mills have turned to advocacy since the shooting two weeks ago. Just four days after the incident, a group of green-and-gold clad students, alumni and teachers poured into Washington for the March for Our Lives anti-gun violence rally.

The St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office released 911 audio tapes related to the incident, revealing confusion and fear among students and staff.

“There’s been a shooting here. Please come now,” one girl says.

The dispatcher asks what the problem is. “There’s a school shooting. Please...,” the girl answers.

A funeral and prayer service for Willey were held last week, bringing together hundreds of people from the close-knit community in Southern Maryland.

Mollie Davis, a Great Mills student who has been outspoken about the need for change, tweeted the night before she was set to return to class.

“Myself and my other peers at Great Mills go back to school tomorrow,” she wrote. “Please do not forget about us, our school, and what happened there. We never will.”

The sheriff’s office investigation into the shooting is still ongoing, said spokeswoman Cpt. Julie Yingling, and Gaskill is expected to return to the school sometime this week.

trichman@baltsun.com

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