A police officer working at Dixon High School on Wednesday shot and wounded a former student who fired a gun near the school’s gym and later tried to shoot the officer Wednesday, officials said.
The incident began about 8 a.m., according to officials speaking at a late-morning news conference. Students had gathered at the gym for graduation practice.
Dixon police Chief Steven Howell said the suspect, a 19-year-old male, “fired several shots” near the gym.
The school resource officer, identified as Mark Dallas, confronted the suspect, who then fled from the school with the officer in pursuit, Howell said. During the pursuit, the suspect fired several shots at the officer but did not strike him.
The officer returned fire and struck the suspect, who was then taken into custody just west of the school, Howell said. He was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. No one else was injured.
An earlier news account said the gunfire exchange took place in the gym.
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 Arellanno Jr. said. “Things could have gone much worse.”
“He saved an enormous amount of lives,” Lee County Sheriff John Simonton.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, in a statement credited “school resource officer Mark Dallas for his bravery and quick action to immediately diffuse a dangerous situation.”
Authorities have not provided the gunman’s name.
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. 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 gymnastium. They didnt know if the shooting was real or not until other students started pouring into the armory.
Scott said that 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, Mr. 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, which is about 80 miles west of Chicago, were placed on lockdown in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. The other schools re-opened after officials determined the gunman acted alone.
Check back for updates.
The Associated Press contributed.