Great Mills — Last Wednesday, students from Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland joined a nationwide “school walkout” to call for an end to gun violence and more school safety measures.
On Tuesday morning, those same students were evacuated from their own school after gunfire rang out.
The suspected gunman, 17-year-old student Austin Wyatt Rollins, was pronounced dead hours later at a local hospital. Two teenage students were being treated for their injuries — one, Jaelynn Willey, was in critical condition — and a school resource officer who fired at the gunman was unharmed.
“This is what we train for. This is what we prepare for and this is what we pray we never have to do,” said St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron. “And on this day we realized our worst nightmare that our greatest asset — our children — were attacked in a bastion of safety and security, one of our schools.”
The entire incident played out in less than a minute at 7:55 a.m. in a hallway at Great Mills, a school 90 miles south of Baltimore that enrolls about 1,600 students.
Cameron said Rollins fired a Glock 9-millimeter gun at a 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, who was later identified as Willey. There’s “an indication that a prior relationship existed between the shooter and the female victim,” Cameron said, an angle that investigators were pursuing Tuesday.
The school’s resource officer, Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill, responded quickly to the scene and “engaged” the shooter, Cameron said. As Gaskill fired at Rollins, Rollins “almost simultaneously” fired his gun, Cameron said.
Investigators are still trying to determine which bullets struck which individuals.
Willey suffered life-threatening injuries and was in critical condition at the University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center, while the 14-year-old boy was in good condition at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital.
Officers from multiple agencies are assisting with the investigation into the shooting, which included searching a car and a home, combing through social media accounts, interviewing witnesses, reviewing footage from surveillance cameras and tracing the ownership of the gun used by the student. Cameron said there were no immediately obvious warning signs on social media before the shooting, but said investigators still needed to take a deeper look.
The St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office urged anyone with information about the incident to contact the FBI.
Gaskill, the school resource officer, was in uniform at the time of the incident. He’s been with the sheriff’s office for nearly six years, after four years as a correctional officer. He’s been assigned to Great Mills as a school resource officer since the start of the school year.
Cameron praised Gaskill for responding quickly to the scene. He said all his deputies have been trained in how to respond to active-shooter situations as a single officer, instead of waiting to assemble a team.
“You go to the sound of gunfire,” he said.
Deputies, the school nursing staff and others provided first aid to the three teens who were shot, including applying a tourniquet and performing CPR, Cameron said.
Senior Terrence Rhames was standing with his friends outside their first-period class when he heard a shot. He knew instantly what the loud crack meant.
He started running, heading to a first-floor bathroom before thinking, “This is a dead end.” He turned instead to sprint toward the nearest exit. Out of the corner of his eye, Rhames said, he saw a girl fall.
“I just thank God I’m safe,” said Rhames, 18. “I just want to know who did it and who got injured.”
Parents were asked to meet their children at a reunification site on the Leonardtown High School campus, where counselors and other support staff were on hand.
Lexington Park resident Shonita Somerville said she had just dropped off her 11th-grade daughter when she got a call from her saying that there was a shooting in the school.
“She was walking in the hallway and said she heard a gunshot and kids running and crying and police running in with their guns,” Somerville said.
Somerville and her daughter were reunited two hours later.
“I never thought something like this would happen here. St. Mary’s is a small little place. Now, I can say: ‘You think it wouldn’t happen? It can happen to anybody,’ ” Somerville said.
No one answered the door Tuesday afternoon at Rollins' home in Lexington Park.
Toni Foreman, who lives across the street, said she was shocked to learn that Rollins might have been involved in the shooting.
He would often walk her son, 13-year-old Ivan Foreman, home after school, and just last week, the two boys played catch, she said. "I didn't know he had any guns," she said. "He was a very good kid."
She hesitated to say she regretted letting Rollins watch her son. "I don't know what the situation was," she said. "I wish he would have reached out for help."
"He just couldn't handle the situation," whatever it was that troubled him, Ivan chimed in.
Mostly, Foreman said she felt sorrow for Rollins' family and the two victims. "My heart goes out to all the families involved," she said. "They are all victims."
The Great Mills shooting comes just over a month after a deadly rampage in a Florida high school. Seventeen people died in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, catalyzing a national conversation about gun violence in schools.
Last Wednesday, Great Mills students participated in the “school walkout” on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting. The students called for an end to gun violence and more school safety measures.
Mikki Braley, 14, was among more than 100 Great Mills students who walked out of class last week. Those same students were evacuated from class Tuesday. “I find it crazy,” she said. “Just a week ago we were protesting against this, and now we have a shooting in our school.”
One of the student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas tweeted her anger about the Great Mills incident.
“Less than a WEEK ago Great Mills High School students walked out with us to protest gun violence...now they’re experiencing it for themselves,” Jaclyn Corin wrote. “The state of our country is disgusting -- I’m so sorry, Great Mills.”
Great Mills High School will be closed Wednesday, and potentially through the end of the week, said St. Mary’s County Public Schools superintendent James Scott Smith.
“This is just the beginning of a very long and tragic process that we will go through in St. Mary’s County,” Smith said.
It will take time for the school community to process and heal from the incident, he said. “What we had this morning is truly our worst fear,” he said.
Within hours of the Great Mills shooting, politicians reiterated calls for various forms of gun control and improvements to school safety, issues that catapulted to national prominence after the Parkland school shooting.
After the Parkland shooting, Gov. Larry Hogan proposed spending $125 million next year to enhance security at schools in the state, including by reinforcing doors and installing panic buttons to prevent and react to shooters.
He also suggested $55 million for two ongoing spending initiatives, including $50 million for “school safety grants” that could pay for armed school resource officers, technology and counselors at public schools, and increased funding for the state’s Center for School Safety, which would include money to hire social media experts to scour the internet looking for threats.
The proposals are being considered by lawmakers in Annapolis, who have already given initial approval to three tougher gun-control laws.
Speaking in St. Mary’s County, Hogan expressed frustration that his funding proposal for school security has not moved forward in the General Assembly.
“To me, it’s outrageous that we haven’t taken action yet,” Hogan said.
U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the House minority whip, and U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin quickly left Capitol Hill and made their way to St. Mary’s County Tuesday morning. Hoyer has represented the area since 1981 and said he felt “a deep sense of loss” when he learned of the shooting at Great Mills.
Hoyer said it’s unacceptable that Congress has not passed meaningful gun control following school shootings and demonstrations from students. “These young people are demanding action,” said Hoyer, a Democrat.
Cardin, another Democrat, who was giving a speech in Washington about water infrastructure when he learned of the Great Mills shooting, said his immediate reaction was "shock, anger, just frustration that now it happened in Maryland."
He said this latest school shooting underscores the need for more gun control. Cardin added that while school resource officers play an important role in schools, he remains opposed to the idea of arming school teachers as President Donald J. Trump has advocated.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called the incident at Great Mills a “horrifying situation,” and said her agency stands ready to help.
“Our hearts and prayers are with those impacted, and our deep appreciation goes out to the first responders,” she wrote on Twitter.
The Evening Sun
Since the Parkland shooting, many districts around the country have reported a spike in threats against schools. In late February, local media reported that police were investigating a social media threat against Great Mills, warning of a forthcoming school shooting.
Police increased their presence at the high school, according to TheBayNet.com, though the threat was not substantiated. There has been no indication that Tuesday’s incident is related.
This weekend, thousands of students are expected to flood Washington for the “March for Our Lives,” a national protest to demand an end to mass shooting in schools.
Baltimore Sun reporters Kevin Rector, Jessica Anderson, Michael Dresser, Erin Cox and Catherine Rentz contributed to this article.