When DeSean Mobley heard the pop of gunfire, he didn’t recognize it at first. It wasn’t until classmates at Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland came running into his classroom, locking the doors behind them, that he realized shots had been fired in the hallway.
The St. Mary’s County students flipped off the lights and put paper over the small windows in the classroom doors. Their teacher was outside. He had run in the direction of the gunfire.
On their own, many of the students had rehearsed lockdowns before, and knew to just huddle, as quietly as possible, and wait for safety.
With the recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in many minds, the 17-year-old junior Mobley realized: “This was the real thing.”
Two students were injured and a third — the suspected gunman, Austin Wyatt Rollins — was killed at the Southern Maryland high school just before the first bell of the day on Tuesday.
As students reunited with their parents from across the county at nearby Leonardtown High School later that afternoon, they recounted a harrowing morning to relieved families. Cars lined Point Lookout Road, and parents wearing suits and uniforms hurried into the school and the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center next door.
Students had been evacuated room by room to the Great Mills cafeteria before being bused to Leonardtown High.
Isiah Tichenor, a Great Mills senior who lives in Lexington Park, said he had been in a computer literacy class on the first floor when he heard yelling in the hallway: “Run! He has a gun!”
Tichenor was closest to the door, so he stepped out to shut it. He unclasped the latch holding the door open, then looked up to see Rollins rounding the corner, with a handgun pressed to his own head, Tichenor said.
They locked eyes. Rollins — whom Tichenor said he initially didn’t recognize — didn’t speak.
“I was face-to-face with him,” Tichenor, 18, said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun. “If he wanted to, he could’ve killed me.”
Tichenor said he pulled the door closed as the school resource officer rounded the corner and commanded Rollins to drop the gun.
“Put the gun down,” the officer said, according to Tichenor. “We know you don’t want to hurt anyone else.”
When he got back inside the room, Tichenor said, the class stared at him, anxious to hear what had happened. Some people have told him he may have saved their lives.
“When I went to close the door I didn’t really think it was a heroic move,” he said. “I just wanted to close the door.”
Tichenor said he heard two gunshots. When his class was escorted from the building, a pool of blood remained where Rollins had been standing, he said.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s weird. I never thought I would be in something like this.”
Sophomore Bethanie Morgan’s entire family, including her sister Brittanie, who happened to be visiting from college in Georgia, came to Leonardtown High to hug her and take her home.
Even though Morgan has grown up around guns, she didn’t realize a weapon had been fired at first, either, she said.
“There was a bang like somebody grabbed 5 or more textbooks and threw them on the ground,” she said.
Her teacher locked the doors, pulled the blinds shut and quieted the students.
“The teacher told us everything would be fine,” Morgan said.
Junior Tyler Echols’ bus was late Monday morning, and he walked into the school only moments after the shooting happened. A group of students fleeing out the front door was the first sign of trouble; when he turned to the hallway toward his classroom, it was blocked off. He was rushed into the school library.
“We all started panicking a little,” he said. “I didn’t think it was active, but I knew something had happened.”
Classmates learned bits and pieces of what had happened through hushed phone calls, text messages and social media posts: A boy had a gun, and a girl had collapsed.
Even as he headed home with his mother hours later, uncertain, and sometimes incorrect, information churned through the student body. Someone said the shooter had killed himself. Someone else said several students had been killed. Neither assertion has been confirmed in official police statements.
Lakisha Chase, mother of DeSean Mobley, was “terrified” when her niece told her there was a shooting at Great Mills. Her son had left just an hour before, and now he wasn’t answering his cellphone.
“I was thinking, ‘Maybe he’s just not answering,’ and then running through my mind, I’m hoping he wasn’t hurt,” Chase said. “First thing you’re going to be hoping and praying it’s not your kid, but you’re praying for the situation altogether.”
Soon, she reached one of her son’s close friends. Mobley was OK. He left his cellphone at home.