Armed Student Killed in Officer-Involved Shooting at Austin-East Magnet High School

In February, Austin-East briefly returned to remote learning after gun violence took the lives of three students in less than three weeks.
Published: April 13, 2021

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — One student was killed and an officer was injured in a shooting at a Knoxville high school Monday afternoon.

Knoxville Police officers responded to Austin-East Magnet High School around 3:15 p.m. after reports of an armed male student in a bathroom, reports AP News. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Director David B. Rausch said the officers ordered the student to come out but he wouldn’t comply. When the officers entered the bathroom, the student opened fire, striking school resource officer (SRO) Adam Willson at least once in the upper leg. One officer returned fire, striking the student.

The student was pronounced dead at the school and Willson was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center for surgery. No one else was injured in the shooting.

Outside the hospital, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon told reporters she spoke with Willson and that he was conscious, in good spirits and “going to be okay.”

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“I thanked him for putting his life on the line to protect the students and staff at the school, and he said he’d rather he be hurt than anybody else,” she added.

Multiple law enforcement agencies responded to the incident, including the Knoxville Fire Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in Nashville (ATF Nashville) and TBI. Fire officials said officers acted as shields for paramedics who worked to locate injured individuals.

Classes have been canceled at Austin-East for the next two days but counselors have been made available at the school. Superintendent Bob Thomas said a decision about the rest of the week’s classes will be made later.

Back in February, Kincannon spoke at a press conference about gun violence that took the lives of three Austin-East students in less than three weeks. Knox County Schools resumed in-person learning in January but Austin-East briefly went back to virtual instruction following the student deaths.

In response to the shootings, the school announced it was adding three additional SROs at Austin-East and increasing patrols in East Knoxville and also near Austin-East and Vine Middle Magnet School.

During a press conference Monday, Rausch said it is important to make the distinction that this was an officer-involved shooting and not a school shooting.

Last week, Governor Bill Lee (R) signed legislation that will allow most adults 21 and older to carry handguns — openly or concealed — without clearing a background check and training first. The law, which does not apply to long guns, will take effect July 1, according to USA Today.

The legislation has been criticized by law enforcement groups who argued the state’s current permit system provides an important safeguard for knowing who should or shouldn’t be carrying a gun.

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