Wounded KPD officer ID’d

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KPD Officer Adam Willson. Source: KPD

A Knoxville Police Department officer who was wounded Monday in a shootout at Austin-East Magnet High School has been identified as the school’s SRO (Student Resource Officer), authorities said. 

Officer Adam Wilson, a 20-year-veteran of KPD, is recovering from surgery at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, according to a statement posted today on social media by KPD. 

Statements of support have flooded into the department from fellow law enforcement agencies, local officials and private citizens. 

“We are grateful for the well wishes,” KPD’s statement said.

An Austin-East student — who has yet to be identified by authorities — was killed in the shootout in a restroom only minutes before school was supposed to let out Monday.

The fatal shooting, which took place at the beginning of Youth Violence Prevention Week, brought the toll of Austin-East students to die by gunfire so far in 2021 to five young men and women. It was the first killing to actually take place on school property, and it was the first involving law enforcement. 

Precisely how the confrontation unfolded or how long it lasted wasn’t clear as of late Monday night.  It wasn’t known if the officer or officers had tried to negotiate the student’s surrender, or if they even had time to make such an attempt to disarm him.  It was also unknown  if the student had been approached by school officials before the fatal encounter in the restroom took place. 

Video and audio of the encounter was captured by KPDs new bodycam system, which was unveiled with fanfare to the public early this month, according to TBI Director David Rausch. 

“It’s a sad day for Knoxville and it’s tough for Austin-East,” said Rausch, a former KPD officer who served for several years as police chief before moving to Nashville to run the TBI. “What a sad day for the family who lost their loved one and the families of the officers who had to get involved in this.”

The TBI was called in to handle the shooting investigation by Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen. 

The shooting happened about 3:15 p.m. when KPD received a call about “an individual possibly armed with a gun” at the school, Rausch said.

The student refused orders to come out of the restroom and then opened fire when one or more officers entered the room, hitting one in the leg.  At least one officer then returned fire, killing the student, he said.

Police tape seals off Austin-East Magnet High School after Monday’s shootout between a student and a Knoxville police officer. Photo by J.J. Stambaugh.

It wasn’t clear now many officers confronted the young man in the restroom, Rausch said.

Rausch took pains to stress that the information gathered so far was preliminary in nature. The evidence the TBI plans to review includes footage from KPD bodycams, recordings from the school’s security system and interviews with the people involved, he said.

Rausch also said it was improper to categorize Monday’s incident as a “school shooting.”

“This was an officer-involved shooting inside of a school,” he said. 

Regardless of the semantics, the violent death of a fifth Austin-East student is bound to have unpredictable consequences.

Justin Taylor, 15, was accidentally shot and killed by a friend Jan. 27. Stanley Freeman Jr., 16, was killed Feb. 12 as he was driving away from the Austin-East campus, and 15-year-old Janaria Muhammad was fatally shot outside her home on Feb. 16. Jamarion “Lil Dada” Gillette died early March 11 at a local hospital, several hours after he was brought in by a motorist who found him suffering from a gunshot wound in South Knoxville.

Two male juveniles have since been charged with first-degree murder for Freeman’s death and are waiting to learn if they will stand trial as adults. Police are still searching for the killers of Muhammad and Gillette.

Officials didn’t say Monday if there were any indications that the slain student had a connection to any of the murder investigations. Police have said repeatedly they’ve had a difficult time getting witnesses to step forward; sources on the street in East Knoxville have said the killings are at least peripherally related to the incessant gang warfare that’s been a part of daily life in the community since the 1980s.

Police block off the street leading to Austin-East Magnet High School after Monday’s deadly shooting. Photo by J.J. Stambaugh.

The five teens’ deaths are only the most recent tragedies in the midst of an unprecedented surge of deadly violence that has touched almost every corner of the city.

There were 37 homicides in Knoxville in 2020, more than the previous high of 35 in 1998.

Since Jan. 1 of this year, there have been at least 16 slayings in the city, all of them involving firearms. In comparison, by this time in 2020 there had been six homicides. There have been an additional five homicides in the unincorporated areas of Knox County under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office.

Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas said that Austin-East will be closed today and Wednesday. A decision on how classes will be handled the rest of the week will be made later, he said.

“I want to thank Principal Nathan Langolis, his administrative team, and our teachers and employees for showing incredible courage and strength as this situation unfolded,” Thomas said. “I know the Austin-East staff loves their students deeply and we’re all devastated  by this tragedy.”

Mayor Indya Kincannon said that she’d visited Officer Wilson in the hospital and personally thanked him “for taking a bullet” during the shootout.

“He said he’d rather be hurt than anyone else,” Kincannon said. “He’s in good spirits and he’s getting great medical attention at University of Tennessee Medical Center.”

She then thanked all the KPD officers who responded to the incident. “Their quick action saved lives and protected the many innocent people in our community, and they do that every day,” she said.

Kincannon pointed out that the shooting occurred on only the second day of Youth Violence Prevention Week.

“We cannot waver in our hope and our commitment to ending violence in our city, particularly in our youth,” she said.

After the shooting, Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie stood outside Austin-East talking to East Knoxville residents.  Just after 6 p.m., McKenzie said she had to leave to go to the scene of a possible drive-by shooting in a nearby neighborhood.  

“Pray, just pray,” said. “Pray for the families involved, pray for all of our community.”

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on April 13, 2021