A school resource police officer is being lauded as a hero for intervening when a former student at Dixon High School opened fire Wednesday morning near the school gym where students were gathered for a graduation rehearsal.
The officer, identified by the city as 15-year department veteran Mark Dallas, shot and injured the gunman after the suspect fired at the officer while trying to flee, police said.
The suspect, identified as a 19-year-old former student, was taken into custody, and no one else was injured in the gunfire exchange, authorities said.
In a news release issued Wednesday evening, officials in Dixon, about 100 miles west of Chicago, said Illinois State Police were conducting an independent investigation and would determine when the suspect’s identity would be released.
But online records for Lee County Circuit Court show that felony charges of aggravated discharge of a weapon at a school were filed Wednesday against 19-year-old Matthew A. Milby.
City officials said the suspect was being treated at a local hospital for injuries that were not considered life-threatening and was under 24-hour police watch.
Authorities said the incident began at about 8 a.m. when the suspect “fired several shots” near the gym. Dallas, who has worked as a school resource officer at Dixon High for five years, rushed to the area. He confronted the suspect, who then fled but, with the officer in pursuit, fired several shots at the officer but did not strike him, Police Chief Steven Howell said.
The officer returned fire and struck the suspect, who was then taken into custody just west of the school, Howell said.
Howell and other officials praised the officer for saving lives.
“From the angle I’m looking at right now, at lot of things went right today when a great many of them could have (gone) wrong,” Dixon Mayor Liandro Arellano Jr. said. “Things could have gone much worse.”
“He saved an enormous amount of lives,” Lee County Sheriff John Simonton.
Gov. Bruce Rauner in a statement credited “school resource officer Mark Dallas for his bravery and quick action.”
Dallas has 24 years of law-enforcement experience, 15 with Dixon, officials said, requesting that media outlets “give privacy and time to Officer Dallas and his family as we work through this traumatic incident.”
According to WGN-TV, a woman who identified herself as the gunman’s mother told reporters: “My son has been very, very sad for a long time.”
She said her son was bullied and ostracized at school, and was beaten up in October. She said she doesn’t know know where her son got a gun, according to WGN.
Devin Scott, 18, a senior, said he and 150 others students were in gym at 8 a.m. They heard what sounded like firecrackers. Gym teacher Andrew McKay came running into gym and shouted that everyone should get out, Scott said.
“We all got up, and everyone started running toward the doors,” Scott said. “Some people didn’t take it seriously. They thought it was firecrackers. Some people did. They started crying as they were running.”
The students ran out of the building and went to a National Guard armory a short distance from the gymnasium. They didn’t know if the shooting was real or not until other students started pouring into the armory.
Scott said the experience didn’t begin to sink in until his adrenaline began to wear off.
“I almost started crying,” he said. “It was scary. My life could have ended.”
He and his brother, Skylar, 16, a junior, credited Officer Dallas and their teacher, McKay, for preventing what could have been a horrible tragedy.
“I feel like he (Dallas) is a hero. I feel like Mr. McKay is a hero,” Devin Scott said.
Russ Shuck, 65, owner of Russ’ Automotive Service & Towing, said he began to notice something was amiss when students started pouring out from between the houses that separate him from the high school.
“I was sitting here in the office with a couple of other guys drinking Pepsi and shooting the bull,” he said. “We were wondering what was going on. Then we heard the sirens.”
Shuck expressed surprise that a school shooting could happen in a town like Dixon.
“It’s just kinda of shocking that it happened in Dixon,” he said. “Never thought I’d see it around here.”
Authorities say students did exactly as they were trained to do in such situations. Officials said they were pleased to discover that students had barricaded themselves into classrooms by blocking doorways with chairs, desks and other furniture.
Police have not said why the former student came to the school.
Police said they believe the gunman acted alone and that there was no further threat to anyone in the area. Howell declined to discuss why the former student brought a gun to the school.
According to the city of Dixon website, the school resource officer position was started by the Dixon Police Department in 2000 to help prevent school violence.
Officials said all schools in Dixon were placed on lockdown in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. The other schools reopened after officials determined the gunman acted alone.
The Associated Press contributed.