Officials: Knox school shooting suspect cleared all background checks

Officials: Knox school shooting suspect cleared all background checks

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Mark Stephen Foster Mark Stephen Foster

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Knox County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jim McIntyre said in a Thursday afternoon press conference that the teacher accused of the shooting at Inskip Elementary School cleared all background checks at his 2007 hiring.

Mark Stephen Foster, 48, a fourth grade teacher at the school is accused of shooting Principal Elisa Luna and Assistant Principal Amy Brace.

The superintendent said background checks consist of three parts: a fingerprint check with the FBI and TBI, a check with the state Department of Children's Services and a drug screening.

Foster cleared each check when he was initially hired as a substitute teacher in 2007.

Superintendent McIntyre said checks by the FBI or TBI would normally pick up any past criminal arrests or convictions. He added that references from other Knox County teachers were in Foster's personnel file.

The superintendent said the principal and assistant principal met with Foster Wednesday afternoon at school. During that meeting, he was told his contract would not be renewed for the next school year. He said that decision is to the principal's discretion.

Foster left the school office when the meeting was finished. The superintendent said there was no indication any problems would follow.

However, Foster is accused of returning to the office later when shots were fired.

According to the superintendent, Inskip administrators decided Wednesday there was no need for a school resource officer to attend the meeting with Foster.

The superintendent said most teachers stay in their classrooms until their contracts expire with no further issues. He also said there are strategies in place to deal with any problems that arise.

Police Chief Sterling Owen said officers seized a computer and a box that may be connected to the gun used in the shooting when they searched Foster's home Wednesday evening.

Chief Owen said officers arrived at the school Wednesday three minutes after the first 911 call and arrested Foster within 14 minutes.

Officers regularly practice response to incidents such as school shootings. But Chief Owen said when the incident involves someone who's authorized to be in the building, it's nearly impossible to stop.

In November 2009, the superintendent said the school system received an anonymous email claiming Foster was unstable and had past problems with law enforcement.

The school system's security office opened an investigation of the email claims, including a check with Anderson County, Dr. McIntyre said.

An investigator said they found that Foster's brother had filed an order of protection against him in Anderson County after Foster was hired in Knox County. However, that order was later dismissed for lack of proof.

The superintendent said investigators attempted to contact Oak Ridge Tool-Engineering Inc. CEO Terry Mullins about a 1995 incident when Foster threatened to kill him.

However, Dr. McIntyre said Mullins never returned calls from investigators and no criminal charges were filed in the incident.

An investigator said after Foster made the threats, Anderson County officers took him to a 90 minute mental evaluation when it was determined he was not an imminent threat. After that, Foster was allowed to go free.

The superintendent said officials have made many security enhancements during his tenure and they began speaking with liaisons from the police department and sheriff's office again Thursday on what more can be done to keep schools safe.

A plan is in the works for an Inskip community forum next week to respond to the shooting.

The superintendent has named Inskip Elementary reading coach Jamie Snyder as the school's interim principal.

Luna and Brace are hospitalized at UT Medical Center.

Foster was arraigned Thursday morning in the Knox County Detention Facility on two counts of attempted first degree murder and a charge of unlawful possession of a weapon on school property with intent to go armed.

His bond was set at $1.005 million.

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