PANAMA CITY -- The burly, bipolar man who held a Florida school board at gunpoint was frustrated and broke. He was a troubled ex-con with an interest in anarchy, and when his wife was fired from her teaching job and their benefits ran out, he went to the board meeting and said he was prepared to die.
Clay Duke killed himself Tuesday after firing at the board members, missing them by mere inches, and exchanging a volley of gunfire with a security guard. A day later, his wife tearfully talked about the man she loved, calling the 56-year-old father a “gentle giant.”
“The economy and the world just got the better of him,” Rebecca Duke said in a rambling press conference.
In the moments prior to the shooting, Duke spray painted a circle and a large, red V inside of it on the meeting room wall and muttered about rising taxes and how his wife was fired from the school district. The school superintendent begged Duke not to shoot, but he did. A school board member crept up from behind and hit Duke with her purse -- and Duke only called her a name, but didn’t shoot.
Rebecca Duke said her husband was an excellent marksman who probably intentionally missed the five board members who were sitting just steps away.
“He didn’t want any one to get hurt but himself,” she said.
No one but Duke was injured; a school security guard fired several shots and hit Duke three times in the back. In the end, Duke took his own life by shooting himself in the head.
Police said the attack wasn’t some spur of the moment idea. At his mobile home in the woods, they found Dec. 14 circled on a calendar. And police said he had at least 25 more rounds of ammunition in his pocket.
The entire shooting was captured by local television stations, and the video was posted on the Internet and broadcast on TV throughout the day. His Facebook page, which was public until late Wednesday afternoon, revealed a man who was fascinated with the movie “V for Vengeance” -- which depicts the same symbol that Duke spray painted onto the wall just before he took out his gun.
As board members gave television interviews about the harrowing experience, a sad and troubling portrait of Duke emerged.
Born in Ocala, Duke graduated from high school in Tampa. Little is known about his early adult years -- family members claimed he was in the Air Force for eight years, but that could not be confirmed.
In the mid-1990s, Duke had drifted to the Florida Panhandle -- not the sugar sand beaches, but the remote and wooded inland.
The 1990s were a blur of court hearings and personal conflicts.
He divorced a woman named Anita in 1995 and at some point, had a daughter. He was sued by a property management company in 1999. In 2000, he was convicted for waiting in the woods for ex-wife with a rifle, wearing a mask and a bulletproof vest. She confronted him and then tried to leave in a vehicle, and Duke shot the tires. His second wife, Rebecca, said the incident was a misunderstanding and that he went to his ex-wife’s house because the ex-wife “wouldn’t leave them alone.”
Duke’s attorney on the case, Ben Bollinger, remembered Duke as especially paranoid about the new millennium.
“He was one of these Y2k people,” he said, referring to a computer bug that some people thought was going to cause massive problems and economic chaos Jan. 1, 2000. “He was one of those believers that the world was going to turn for worst and he was stockpiling weapons, assault weapons.”
Bollinger said Duke took a plea agreement: Five years in prison followed by 10-years probation. He sought psychiatric help and took his medications as ordered and completed his probation, his lawyer said.