Questions arise after Anthony Thompson Jr. seen roaming campus prior to Austin-East shooting; school launches internal investigation

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — After the public got a look at how the Austin-East shooting unfolded between officers and 17-year-old Anthony Thompson Jr., many had questions. Some wonder why the teen was allowed to roam campus after a confrontation with his ex-girlfriend. Others asked if school leaders could have done more.

The WATE 6 On Your Side Team is looking into those questions. We know that just after 12:30 p.m. on April 12, Thompson’s ex-girlfriend had gone to a school leader’s office to get away from his alleged threatening behavior. She then went home.

After that, we also know Thompson was seen on school security camera footage leaving and coming back to the school. He wanders around.

He sat on a staircase for quite some time. All of this activity took place during school hours.

Finally, just after 3 p.m., nearly three hours after the confrontation with his ex-girlfriend, police found him in that bathroom. That’s when the shooting happened.

“If the school had knowledge that this had occurred and that is why, in fact, the girl went home, then from the time she got home to the time the shooting occurred, what are we talking about an hour and a half, maybe two hours, apparently this kid was just roaming around the school. He wasn’t in the classroom where he was supposed to be. I mean, wouldn’t they have wanted to put eyes on him at that point and make sure things were okay,” Van Wolfe, Executive Director of SafeSpace, asked.

SafeSpace, formerly known as the Cosby Coalition Against Domestic Violence, is an East Tennessee organization that provides resources to domestic violence victims. The executive director wants to know what policies are in place for this in Knox County Schools.

“I think immediately they should’ve brought him into the office, gotten her some one-on-one with a guidance person or teacher that she’s close to, again, if policies were in place and this might be an infraction of a student discipline policy already,” she explained. “I just think that there’s a lot that a school system could do in terms of prevention, especially after they have knowledge that this is occurring.”

Her suggestions include anonymous reporting systems, school-based, no contact orders, and education about teen dating violence. She believes the shooting could have been prevented.

“I don’t think people, in general, teachers, school people, whatever, understand the huge danger in a domestic violence relationship or situation and, again, from my perspective, what burdens me is like all domestic homicides they are mostly always preventable, because there’s been opportunities for intervention and knowledge from various people in the community, the courts, the hospitals, what have you, so at any point, if that had been halted, you know these deaths wouldn’t be occurring,” Wolfe explained.

The WATE 6 On Your Side Team sent a slew of questions to Austin-East and Knox County school leaders about this. We asked what protocols were in place. We asked what steps were taken that day. District leaders sent us the following statement from the Superintendent.

“We are working to gather more information related to the events that led up to the April 12 shooting and have begun our own internal investigation.”

Superintendent Bob Thomas

A current handbook for Austin-East Magnet High School doesn’t appear to be posted online. There is an older handbook from the 2016-2017 school year. It does reference students who leave campus without permission and offer disciplinary action options. Being tardy to a class is classified as an “infraction.” It also states that students should remain in class from bell to bell unless they have a hall pass.

It references fighting, harassment, sexual harassment, intimidation, and bullying, but not domestic violence specifically. Students who violate the rules can be suspended or expelled and, “parents and students must understand that school administrators are bound by federal, state and local regulations governing disciplinary matters.”

The handbook also states, “in some cases, a “harassment contract” may be signed by the parties in dispute. These contracts will include the disputing parties’ names, and will be an agreement between those individuals to leave each other alone.” To read more about disciplinary action and other policies, click here to view the handbook.

Originally, this story contained a link to a handbook listed for a different Knox County high school. This story has been updated to show the most recent handbook available online for Austin-East.

If you need domestic violence resources, click here.

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