A gunman killed a professor from Peabody, Kan., in his office at Delta State University in Mississippi, officials said Monday. The violence put the Southern campus on lockdown and brought grief to the Midwestern town where the professor grew up.
Authorities pursued the shooter, thought to be another instructor at the university, into the evening Monday, and at some point he was in contact with police and told them he was “not going to jail,” they said. Late Monday, authorities announced that the suspect, 45-year-old Shannon Lamb, was dead.
Ethan A. Schmidt, a 39-year-old history professor, was in his campus office when he was killed at about 10:30 a.m. in Cleveland, Miss., Bolivar County Coroner Nate Brown told The Eagle. Schmidt most likely died instantly, Brown said. Schmidt obtained his academic degrees in Kansas.
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Students said they heard popping noises, then silence. The shooting forced students and teachers to hunker down in classrooms as investigators searched for another school employee suspected in the killing. Investigators were searching for Lamb, Cleveland Police Chief Charles “Buster” Bingham said.
Lamb is also suspected in the shooting death of 41-year-old Amy Prentiss, who was found dead in the home she shared with Lamb in Gautier, officials said.
Gautier police Lt. Scott Wilson and another officer whose name was not given said during a news conference Monday in Gautier that they had spoken with Lamb.
In the news conference broadcast on WLOX-TV, the unidentified officer said anyone coming into contact with Lamb should use extreme caution because police had spoken to the suspect and “he’s made the statement that he’s not going to jail.”
He would not say when or how police spoke to Lamb.
Lamb got a doctorate in education from Delta State University this past spring, says a copy of his resume on the university’s website. He started working at the university in 2009, taught geography and education and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, the resume said.
Police said they don’t know a motive for either of the shootings.
‘A true son of Peabody’
Schmidt’s specialties were Native American and colonial history, said Don Allan Mitchell, an English professor at the school, who called him “a gentleman in every sense of the word.”
“Dr. Ethan Schmidt was a terrific family man, a good friend, a true son of Peabody, Kansas, and his beloved Emporia State University,” he said.
Delta State, with 3,500 students, is in the Mississippi Delta region near the Arkansas-Mississippi state line.
Cleveland, the county seat where the shooting occurred, is a town of quaint shops surrounded by rich farmland where cotton, corn, soybeans and catfish are raised, said Brown, the coroner. It is a small city known for quality of life, not gun violence, he said. “Unfortunately,” Brown said, “this is happening all too often across the United States.”
Schmidt’s parents still live in Peabody, said Ron Traxson, superintendent for Peabody-Burns district schools. Schmidt was one of the 32 members of the class of 1994 at Peabody-Burns High School and was a member of the National Honor Society.
Denae Pickens was a grade ahead of Schmidt at Peabody schools and now teaches fourth-graders at Peabody-Burns Elementary. She had wanted to have Schmidt talk to her students about his knowledge of Native Americans and the American Revolution.
She saw him this past Fourth of July at Peabody’s parade. Schmidt was on his family’s float, waving.
She remembered him as a teen who “really didn’t have an enemy” and that he was “just a lot of fun to be around.”
If something bad happened, he was the one who would “step up and help other people through it.”
Even as a young teen, Schmidt showed a passion for in-depth learning, said Ray Savage, now assistant principal for the Peabody-Burns school district, who was Schmidt’s social studies teacher. Schmidt “would always look for an angle nobody looked at,” Savage said.
Schmidt was so well prepared for class, he could have given the lectures, his former teacher said.
“He was always looking down that academic pathway even back then.” He was “tremendously bright.”
And another thing Savage remembered: As a student, Schmidt regularly wore a coat and tie to school. He was “sharp-dressed” and serious about learning.
A Kansas alum
Jim Pohlman, a 73-year-old pastor at Peabody Christian Church, remembered baptizing Schmidt and his two brothers in April 1988. Pohlman could distinctly recall the baptism because at the time, the church didn’t have a heater for the 600-gallon tank used to perform the baptisms. The cold water left the three boys shaking, and that one incident prompted the church to get a heater for the baptistery.
On Monday, Schmidt’s relatives in Peabody knew very little about the tragedy, Pohlman said. “They have no answers to anything,” he said.
Schmidt’s “goal was to help young people excel and learn everything they could,” Pohlman said. He was about turn 40.
It’s a loss for the whole community of Peabody, he said, adding, “As I walk around and talk to people you’ll see several people crying, and they’ll say, ‘I can’t believe that Ethan was killed.’”
The loss also was being felt in Lawrence on Wednesday. Schmidt received his doctorate from the University of Kansas in 2007, according to his academic resume. His major fields of study at KU were U.S. history and ethnohistory. His dissertation dealt with 17th-Century Virginia.
Paul Kelton, a University of Kansas professor of history, had been Schmidt’s advisor at KU. In a statement Monday, Kelton said: “I am absolutely heartbroken about this tragic news. Ethan was an amazing person – gifted as a teacher and historian, a loving father of three children. KU has lost a dear family member.”
Kelton noted that Schmidt “just recently published two books and was on his way to a stellar career.”
Contributing: Associated Press