The parents of a high school sophomore who died in a shooting at Great Mills High School in 2018 have filed suit against the St. Mary’s County school system alleging officials failed to protect their daughter.
Jaelynn Willey died two days after she was shot in the head inside the high school by her former boyfriend, Austin Rollins.
The lawsuit alleges that Rollins had repeatedly grabbed, pushed and yelled at Willey in sight of school personnel in the two months before the shooting. In addition, the family reported the disturbing behavior to their daughter’s swim coach, saying that they were afraid for her safety, according to the suit.
“Great Mills High School knew that Austin Rollins, a fellow Great Mills High School student, was likely to commit an act of deadly violence against Jaelynn Willey,” alleges the lawsuit filed Friday in the U.S. District Court of Maryland by Melissa and Daniel Willey, Jaelynn’s parents.
They are seeking unspecified damages.
“The parents feel very strongly that our most precious resources — our children — should be able to get up and go to school every day with parents knowing they will return home safe,” said Lauren M. Geisser, a Baltimore attorney representing the family.
St. Mary’s school officials said Willey’s death was a "tragedy and the entire school community mourns her loss. However, the contention that school staff could have somehow prevented this tragedy is incorrect. "
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In a statement, the school system said that it had worked closely with the Sheriff’s Department and the Maryland Center for School Safety and that there was “absolutely no evidence whatsoever that any employee of the St. Mary’s County Public Schools had any reason to foresee the tragic shooting that took place... We will continue to support the Willey family in any way that we can. "
Rollins shot and killed himself after shooting Willey and another student on March 20.
The lawsuit contends that the school system didn’t take actions to prevent the violence, such as disciplining Rollins, using a handheld metal scanning device on students as they entered the building or having enough school police officers in the building.
Rollins had a “significant history of violence” and of making threats to shoot a gun inside the school, the lawsuit alleges. After they broke up, Rollins stalked Willey during school, texting her friends and waiting for her outside classrooms and by her car, according to the suit.
The school should have known that Rollins would “continue his attacks and would increase or escalate his violence,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit alleges that threats of school violence were made a month before the shooting and again just 24 hours before the attack inside the school, but does not specify who made those threats.
“Schools continue to fail to institute safety measures to protect our most innocent vulnerable population that they are responsible for," Geisser said.