First Responders, staff praised for quick reaction to shooting

Austin Wyatt Rollins

Great Mills, MD- It’s a tragedy we hoped would never happen in our community but, sadly, it did.

On Tuesday morning, March 20, Great Mills High School student, Austin Wyatt Rollins, 17, entered the school armed with a semi-automatic Glock handgun and opened fire. A 16 year old female student and a 14 year old male student were both shot by Rollins. The school resource officer (SRO), Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill (pictured right), reacted immediately and fired at least one shot at Rollins.

Rollins was confirmed dead a little before 11:00 a.m. The 16-year-old victim, who has been identified as Jaelyn Willey, is in ICU at Prince George’s Shock Trauma in critical condition.

The 14-year-old victim, who has been identified as Desmond Barnes, was taken to MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital and is said to be in stable condition.

St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron said during an afternoon press conference it’s not yet known if Rollins was shot by the SRO. We do know a shot was fired from Rollins’ gun the same time the SRO opened fire. The shooting happened in the entrance of the school in hallway F.

Cameron said Rollins and Willey may have been in a prior relationship but officers are still investigating.

St. Mary’s County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Smith said “this is our worst fear.” Smith commented that all of the witnesses were children. “It’s an incredibly tragic day. If you don’t think this can happen at your school you are sadly mistaken.”

After the press conference, Smith told there seemed to be no warning signs. “He [Rollins] was well regarded.”

Governor Larry Hogan [R-MD] also joined Cameron to address the media, “Our hearts are broken.” Hogan said no parent should have to worry when they send their kids to school if they will return safely.

“We will continue to support our law enforcement, first responders and students at Great Mills High School,” Hogan stated.

“We are shaken but we are very strong in St. Mary’s. This is an incredible community.” Smith said. “I know our parents will come together and I know our kids will come together. On the other side of this, we will be stronger and we will make good decisions to keep our kids safe every day.”

After the press conference, spoke with Great Mills High School Principal Jake Heibel. He said students and staff reacted quickly. “All students did exactly what we’ve been talking about the past few weeks and they fled the building. The staff did a wonderful job getting students out of the hallway and locked all doors.”

Smith echoed Heibel’s comments. “Everything that we trained for is exactly what we did and as a result of that something that could have been much worse was somewhat contained.”

Smith said there will be more discussion in the next few days and weeks about hardening our schools. “We’re looking into the cost of ballistic glass, metal detectors, more cameras and more trained officers in our schools.”

Just two weeks ago, Smith spoke to an auditorium of parents about steps the district is taking to make schools safer in St. Mary’s County. At that time, cost seemed to be the biggest hurdle. Smith said he expects that to change. “We’re going to have a much more active discussion about cost.” Smith said he will be attending a meeting on Thursday, March 22 in Annapolis for the 2018 Maryland Center for School Safety Summit. This safety summit has been planned for weeks and will focus on state-of-the-art preparation ideas and protocols within all Maryland schools.

Heibel said, while choking back tears, “We are devastated and we are saddened but we will stay strong. This could had happened anywhere at any time. We’re going to find a way to get through this.”

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