KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The horrifying shooting on Tuesday that left at least 19 students and a teacher dead at a Texas elementary school serves as a reminder of how often killings at American schools make the headlines. East Tennessee has seen gun violence in schools around the area over the years.
2010: Inskip Elementary School
February 10th – Students had been dismissed early because of snow. School leaders held a meeting with 4th Grade teacher Mark Foster, telling him that his contract would not be renewed. He left then returned and shot Principal Elisa Luna and assistant principal Amy Brace. Both survived, but it left Luna needing the use of a wheelchair.
Later we learned that Mark Foster had a history of mental illness and had lost 20 jobs in 10 years. Our investigation revealed that Foster had undergone a TBI background check and passed.
Foster also passed a drug test. Somehow, the school system didn’t know that he had been the subject of several complaints.
Records from Anderson County showed his own brother accused Foster of yelling at people on the road where they lived. Foster’s family obtained a court order in 2005 requiring a mental evaluation. Deputies had to track Foster down and take him to a mental health facility for that to happen. Foster had made 7 calls to the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.
In 2006, a woman complained twice that Foster was following her in his car. And in April of 2009 Foster’s brother got a restraining order to keep him away from their mother’s funeral. That order was eventually dismissed.
After the shooting, we also learned that a concerned citizen who claimed to be a relative had emailed Knox County Schools telling anyone who would listen that Foster was violent and describing him as a “ticking time bomb” and a “very dangerous person just waiting to go off.”
Then-superintendent, Dr. Jim McIntyre said the district investigated but called the findings “some family issues, some minor disputes over property lines, and a few folks who really didn’t like Mark Foster.” Those results McIntyre said did not include, “any evidence of a crime nor any indication that Mark Foster represented an imminent threat.”
McIntyre responded with changes to school safety policies, including a more thorough check of teachers’ references and backgrounds along with having security present when teachers are fired.
Foster pleaded guilty in September 2011 to charges of attempted first-degree murder, employing a gun in a dangerous felony, and carrying a gun on school property. A Knox County judge, in November of that year, sentenced Foster to 56 years in prison. That punishment called for Foster to serve at least 30% of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Amy Brace was later named principal of Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Elementary School. Elisa Luna was promoted to serve as a principal support specialist and community liaison within Knox County Schools. During Luna & Brace’s recovery period, both received doctorates in leadership studies in education from the University of Tennessee.
2008: Central High School
Ryan McDonald, a 15-year-old student at Central High School in North Knoxville, was shot and killed inside the school’s cafeteria on August 21st, 2008. The shooter was a fellow student Jamar Siler, also 15 at the time. Investigators said they knew the motive and were able to rule out racial motivation or gang activity.
Siler was transferred to the adult court system in April 2009 to face trial on a charge of first-degree murder. That move came despite the juvenile judge determining there were major failures by children’s services officials in two states with Siler experiencing an abusive past. Siler’s attorney also believed his client suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome.
Jamar Siler’s adopted sister Ciara had been accused in the killing of Jerri Goodman just a few days before the school shooting. That murder and the murder weapon were found to be unrelated to what happened at Central. She spent nearly two months on the run. Investigators eventually caught up with her 2-months later in Atlanta. Ciara Siler was convicted and sentenced to 23-years in prison.
Court proceedings stretched on for years. Siler’s defense team asked for more time to allow their client to undergo further psychological testing. Those multiple delays left McDonald’s relatives wondering how long it would take to get justice. Siler could have faced life in prison, but in 2011 he agreed to plead guilty. Siler’s plea deal included a 30-year sentence which required him to serve at least 85% before becoming parole eligible.
McDonald’s family worked to keep his memory alive in the years that followed by holding a toy drive annually, raising money for children through the McNabb Center along with Child & Family of Tennessee.
2005: Campbell County High School
Three school administrators were shot on November 8, 2005, when a teen opened fire in the principal’s office. Assistant Principal Ken Bruce was killed. Principal Gary Seale and another assistant principal, Jim Pierce survived the encounter.
Kenny Bartley, a 15-year-old student, had brought a pistol to school and investigators said the shooting happened when the administrators confronted Bartley about the gun.
Jury selection was underway with Bartley to be tried as an adult in April of 2007 when the teen took a surprise plea deal on charges of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. Bartley would not wind up spending 45 years in prison as that deal required.
By May, an attorney representing Bartley had asked the court to withdraw the plea. At first, that request was denied. More appeals followed until the deal was eventually tossed by a judge in 2011. The judge bought the argument that the teen did not have enough time to make such an important decision.
A new trial followed in February 2014. Bartley took the stand this time and told the court, “I never intended to hurt anybody that day.”
His new attorney Greg Isaacs portrayed the shooting as a reckless act of a scared, panicked teen while claiming Bartley had only brought the gun to school to trade it for medication. Jurors responded with a guilty verdict, but on a vastly lesser charge of reckless homicide. That carried a sentence of just two to four years. Bartley was released since by then he had already served 8 years in prison.
2005: Maury Middle School
In August of 2005, three boys faced charges after one of them brought two guns to Maury Middle School in Jefferson County. No one died, but one of the three was shot in the leg when the gun went off while a boy was showing it to the others in a school bathroom.
The case was freighted with extra meaning when the sheriff revealed that the students gave statements saying they planned to target two teachers. One of those two teachers called in sick on that day.
The three faced charges of conspiracy to commit murder, but this case remained in the juvenile system. Two of the three were found guilty on the conspiracy charge while the third was convicted of being an accessory in October of 2005. The more serious convictions put two of the boys into DCS custody at a secure facility indefinitely while the other boy was sent to an alternative school.