RADCLIFF, Ky. — Kentucky’s governor is praising the quick response to a man who allegedly killed his wife and then was fatally shot by officers outside his son’s high school.
Authorities said the area’s schools were locked down just eight minutes after law enforcement learned of a possible homicide, and officers then fatally shot the man about five minutes after encountering him in the school’s parking lot. It was all over in about 20 minutes.
The high school student who lost both his parents while he was in class on Wednesday will receive trauma counseling, Hardin County Schools Superintendent Teresa Morgan said. “He is safe at this time and he is now with extended family,” Morgan said.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin praised police via Twitter on Wednesday evening.
“Suspect was attempting to enter a high school in Hardin County, KY,” the tweet said. “Area schools were temporarily locked down as a safety precaution, but the prompt response by law enforcement officers ensured that no harm came to any students or teachers.”
Kentucky State Police spokesman Jeff Gregory told news outlets that Jesse Kilgus, 51, killed Ruth Marie Kilgus, 46, in their home before driving to John Hardin High School. Officers learned that he intended to pick up his son, and contacted Hardin County Schools to lock down the high school as well as a nearby middle school and elementary school.
Gregory said law enforcement officers found Kilgus in his van near the high school building at 12:53 p.m. Wednesday and spoke with him for about five minutes, trying to coax him out. Kilgus then showed a weapon, and seven officers from three departments fired shots at him, Gregory said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
School district officials and police officers said at a news conference Wednesday that their planning for a coordinated response to school shootings prepared them well.
“We did everything right, as far I’m concerned,” Gregory said of the agencies involved. “He didn’t get into the school. The kid didn’t come out of the school. We got there quickly. They went into lockdown. … It’s unfortunate how it turned out, but we believe through practice and communication, some great things happened today as well.”
Two busloads of Butler County Middle School students were approaching the school for a band performance assessment when a wave of police cars went past them into the school parking lot.
At the time, “we said we hope it wasn’t a school shooting,” said Butler County Middle School band teacher Jordan Evans.
The buses had been heading for the back of the school, where Kilgus was shot, but quickly diverted to the front, where administrators whisked them inside and locked them down in a front office, ordering them to stay low and away from windows.
“I think that’s when we realized it was more serious than we were thinking,” said Evans, who told his students not to use their cell phones, to prevent showing any lights. The band students “were tore up. They didn’t know if it was inside the school or outside the school.”
“I was kind of shook up myself. I was thinking all the things the kids were thinking. ‘Is it inside the school? Am I going to get home?” Evans said. “Am I going to get to see my wife?’ But shortly thereafter, they came back and said it was isolated outside the school and not to be worried.”
After the active threat was ruled out, students were allowed to call or text their parents, and they were moved into an auditorium. But the event was canceled; they never got to perform.
Neighbors described Jesse Kilgus as a good person who had showed warning signs about turning violent and didn’t get the help he needed. The Elizabethtown News Enterprise reported that Kilgus described himself as “hurting and going crazy” in a March 13 Facebook post.
“The sad thing about the system is that unless I show up with a gun or bomb, no one takes it seriously,” Lester Hack told the paper.
Morgan said counselors would also be available for staff and students at the high school on Thursday.
Communities across America are re-evaluating school security following the Feb. 14 killings of 17 people inside a school in Parkland, Florida. In Kentucky, a shooting in January at Marshall County High School killed two students and injured more than a dozen others.