'Countless lives were saved': Officer stops armed 19-year-old at Dixon High School
DIXON, Ill. -- A high school resource officer is being praised for his courage in confronting an armed 19-year-old man before he could hurt anybody when police said he opened fire Wednesday morning at Dixon High School.
Matthew A. Milby, of Dixon, is charged with three felony counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm by the Lee county State's Attorneys Office, according to a news release from the Illinois State Police.
He is being held on $2 million bail, and under 24 hour surveillance at a hospital for nonlife threatening injuries, authorities said. He will be transported to jail upon his release.
Police received a report of an "armed male subject" in Dixon High School about 8 a.m. Wednesday, Dixon Police Chief Steven Howell said. Sauk Valley Media reported that the suspect entered the foyer of the Lancaster Gym, where about 150 seniors were getting ready to practice for Sunday's graduation ceremony.
Brianna Johnson, 19, saw someone peeking in the window. He entered the gym with a long-barreled gun of some sort and began shooting, she told Sauk Valley Media.
"All of a sudden, we saw someone come in the new gym lobby doors, and we heard this pop! pop! pop!" 18-year-old Kylie Shaw told Sauk Valley Media. "We just thought it was firecrackers, then we saw pieces of the ceiling coming down."
Resource officer Mark Dallas then confronted him, Howell said, and the suspect left the school and ran. Dallas chased after him.
"While pursuing the suspect, the suspect shot several rounds toward the officer," Howell said, and Dallas returned fire, hitting him in the shoulder. Milby was taken into custody shortly after.
Each charge is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, authorities said. the shooting remains under investigation and additional charges could be filed later.
The suspect's mother said her son had been caught smoking pot while on the football team and subsequently "ostracized."
"The kid's been real sad for a long time. His kindness got taken for weakness," his mother told WTVO Channel 17 in Rockford.
Illinois State Police, who are handling the investigation, were at the suspect's family's home waiting to search the house on a warrant.
Both Johnson and Shaw said they heard three or four shots before gym teacher Andrew McKay slammed the door to the foyer and told everyone to "go, go, go." Then "everyone was sprinting in all different directions," Shaw said.
The students fled the school and wound up in two groups near a nearby drugstore, Sauk Valley Media reported.
No students, staff or other members of the community were injured during the episode, Howell said. Authorities did not believe there was a further threat and think the suspect acted alone.
Dallas, a 15-year veteran of the Dixon Police Department with five years' experience as the school resource officer and 24 total years of law enforcement experience, is being placed on administrative leave, as per policy. Howell praised Dallas, saying he "could not be more proud" of him.
"With shots ringing out through the hallways of the school, he charged toward the suspect and confronted him head-on," he said. "Because of his heroic actions, countless lives were saved. We are forever indebted to him for his service and his bravery."
The suspect's mother, who said she grew up with Dallas, said she "honestly would have to tell him thank you" for not fatally shooting her son, Sauk Valley Media reported. She said the suspect had gone to the school in the morning to pick up his cap and gown.
Dixon is about 100 miles from Chicago.
Students and staff members at the high school responded "extremely well" to the situation, Howell said, adding that the district has received police department training on how to respond to shooters.
"While removing students from the various classrooms, responding officers found the staff [and] students had barricaded the doors to the classrooms with desks, bookcases and other objects," Howell said.
Lee County Sheriff John Simonton also lauded Dallas' actions, saying he saved an "enormous amount of lives in the school today."
"In addition to that, we need to take a look at what happened at the school," he said. "Because we do teach the students and faculty how to respond to these types of events. And from what I've been told ... they did exactly what we asked them to do during the training."
The incident on Wednesday was "horrific," Simonton said. Then he added: "However, it could have been a lot worse."
Brandon Stehl, 19, who completed high school early but was in the gym for the graduation rehearsal, told Sauk Valley Media he thought the shooting was a senior prank initially.
"It was scary; at first, I didn't think much of it, but then my heart rate sped up and people were rushing out," he said. "I come back to school for one day, and this is something I never thought would happen; I wish it wasn't real."
Friday was the last day of school for seniors class; the students were readying for graduation. Principal Mike Grady had just finished discussing how things would go Sunday when the shooting started, Shaw said. Students have had some active shooter training, but it was focused mostly on what to do if they were in a classroom, she said.
Still, "I think that we were all prepared, and we had our natural instincts. I think everyone did an amazing job of following directions and doing what they had to do," she said.
The high school will be closed Thursday to students but not to the staff, according to the school district. All other schools in town will be in session with a heightened police presence.