A 56-year-old man who had already served five years in prison, Clay Duke, entered a school board meeting in Florida on Tuesday with a gun and took several members of the board hostage, unaware that the episode was being captured on film. As seen in the video, the gunman calmly walked up to a podium at the front of the room with a pistol and painted a red encircled “V” on the wall, a symbol that looks so similar to the “V” in the film and comic book V For Vendetta, it’s believed to have been a deliberate reference. (V centers on an anarchist leading a violent revolution against a future fascist government, and it’s been referenced by the hacker group Anonymous, most recently.) Duke ordered everyone out of the room except for the board members, and said, “I’m going to die today.” Ultimately, the gunman opened fire and missed before taking his own life in a shoot-out with a security guard. On his Facebook page, Duke wrote: “My Testament: Some people (the government sponsored media) will say I was evil, a monster (V)… no… I was just born poor in a country where the Wealthy manipulate, use, abuse, and economically enslave 95% of the population.”
Nobody knows how they’d actually behave in life-or-death situations like this, but the video of the incident exposes some surprising and even moving reactions: Ginger Littleton, a middle-aged school board member that the gunman ordered to leave the room, actually tried to create a diversion by reentering the hostage situation and creeping up on the gunman from behind, striking him with her purse in an attempt to save the other school board members. The gunman hit her back, causing her to fall to the ground. Another middle-aged woman fearlessly walked across the room afterward just to make sure her friend wasn’t hurt, even as Duke pointed a gun in her direction. They both left the room unharmed.
Similarly, the board members tried to talk to Duke rationally, even arguing with him about local taxes. (“I said we needed sales taxes from the beginning,” one of them is seen explaining. “I campaigned on that. I said from the beginning sales tax is the most equitable way because everyone pays it, not just property-owners.”) At one point, the man acting as leader of the school board said, “I have a feeling what you want to happen is for the cops to come in here and kill you. This isn’t worth it.” Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. It’s a sad and scary story, but the hostages seem to have handled the situation with calm and courage.