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Gunman takes students and professor hostage at Dyersburg college

September 23, 2003

An armed gunman was killed by police officers after holding 13 students and a professor hostage for almost 10 hours Wednesday at Dyersburg State Community College.

The ordeal started around 12:50 p.m., according to reports, when 26-year-old Harold Kilpatrick burst into a mathematics classroom on the second floor of Eller, the building housing administration and classrooms.
September 23, 2003

An armed gunman was killed by police officers after holding 13 students and a professor hostage for almost 10 hours Wednesday at Dyersburg State Community College.

The ordeal started around 12:50 p.m., according to reports, when 26-year-old Harold Kilpatrick burst into a mathematics classroom on the second floor of Eller, the building housing administration and classrooms.

Kilpatrick, who was from Memphis and had no known connection with the college, had left a note for his sister that morning saying he wanted "to kill some people and die today," according to Associated Press reports. He claimed to be a member of the international terrorist group Al Qaeda, but relatives with whom he was staying in Dyersburg say he was plagued by mental problems.

"I'm going to die here, and I'm going to take as many of you with me as I can. I don't know how many," math instructor Dana Incrocci quoted the gunman as saying.

The hostage situation ended about 9:45 p.m. with the perpetrator being killed by police. Two students were injured. Lab tests and more interviews with hostages will determine whether the students were shot by Kilpatrick or hit by police bullets, said John Mehr of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Michelle Lemaster was airlifted from the campus to a Memphis hospital and is listed in critical condition. John Johnson, the son of DSCC librarian Teresa Johnson, was taken by ambulance to the hospital in Jackson.

Mitch Robinson, APSU vice president for finance and administration, watched the news with particular horror. The hostages were being held on the second floor of the building where he had worked until he came to Austin Peay eight months ago.

The professor being held was a former neighbor.

"My reaction was shock, complete disbelief that something like that could happen at a small community college in Tennessee," he says.

Robinson was on the phone with his former colleagues much of Wednesday evening. He was talking with a former coworker when the ordeal ended at 9:45 p.m.

His coworker described the scene vividly in an e-mail to Robinson Thursday morning. "Bullet holes in the wall…shoes lost off of feet…pools of blood…desks overturned, and the odors of death."

The student center auditorium, where briefings with family and staff were being held, broke into "mass pandemonium" when officials announced the gunman had been shot, the co-worker said.

Robinson says it appears that DSCC staff and administrators followed the emergency preparedness plan set in place two years ago. But even the best of plans can't prepare a school to handle such an event as the one that occurred at DSCC. "Some situations you hope you never have to experience," he says.

Austin Peay's Emergency Preparedness Plan is undergoing revision and should be re-released soon. "I'm sure it will address issues relative to hostage situations," Robinson says.
Debbie Denton