PANAMA CITY BEACH (FBW)—One month after a gunman fired at him from across a desktop—and missed, Superintendent of Schools Bill Husfelt says the faith he stands on and his experiences as a high school principal prepared him to deal with a shooting at the Bay County School Board meeting Dec. 14 in Panama City.
On that day, 56-year-old Clay Duke strode into a Tuesday afternoon meeting of the school board, dismissed the women and children and held the remaining six male members of the board hostage while he delivered a rant against the board, reportedly because his wife had lost her job. Over several minutes, Husfelt tried to reason with the armed man, but Duke began firing at Husfelt and the board members.
In what most term “a miracle,” Husfelt nor any of the board members were injured, although bullets whizzed past them on all sides. Duke was wounded by Security Chief Mike Jones, and then fatally shot himself.
While facing a loaded gun, Husfelt said, “the Holy Spirit was with me.
“I thought, ‘I may die here, but I know where I am going. I am at peace with that,’” Husfelt recalled.
“I have been a high school principal, and I tell you that is the most difficult job there is. Those experiences prepared me for that day,” he said.
Before he took the reins of the Bay County School District in 2008, Husfelt taught 6th-12th graders “all my life,” he said. He, like other educators, dealt with “students’ problems that have nothing to do with education—” everything from head lice to child abuse. As principal of high schools, he was called on to deliver the news of students’ deaths, and to give eulogies for students. In a six-month span, three students lost their lives, some by suicide or murder. Husfelt said he once tried to resuscitate a coed who was struck by lightning in the school courtyard.
“People have told me they were surprised at how calm I was after the shooting, but that couldn’t be any worse than some of the other things I’ve had to do,” he said.
Husfelt told Florida Baptist Witness his most stressful time as an educator was the 18 months he spent fighting a lawsuit brought against him by a teacher, supported by liberal organizations, who said he violated her civil rights. He said “homosexual interests” had led the school on a liberal path, and had exposed students to “things children shouldn’t have to deal with.”
“That was very public and very trying. I leaned on God through that whole time,” he said.
Since the Dec. 14 incident, Husfelt continues to rely on God. He has had three counseling sessions; and he, his wife, Theresa, and their daughters attended another counseling session together. He remains very thankful that he was able to speak to his wife after the shooting before she heard about it from anyone else. Their youngest daughter, who was at home from Florida State University, and their eldest, who lives out of Panama City, heard the news from their mother. Another daughter, a teacher in a Bay County school, was taken out of class and told about the shooting by a school administrator.
“These things were a blessing to me that day,” he said.
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