A gunman in a camouflage outfit opened fire Monday on a third-grade gym class on a school playground, seriously wounding a girl before fleeing, authorities said.
A helicopter and a plane joined dog teams and up to 50 officers from four police agencies combing four square miles of woods, lakes and orange groves around this rural central Florida community. Heavy rain later stopped the air search, but the ground search was to continue through the night if necessary.
The gunman fired three shots, apparently from a rifle, Lake County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Randy Swails said. It was at least the third unprovoked attack by a gunman at a U.S. school in 12 days.
“Somebody outside the fence of the school shot into the school grounds,” said Betty June Cofield, secretary to the Lake County schools superintendent. “It was a man in a camouflage outfit.”
The gunman shot the girl about 11 a.m. as she was taking a class on the Mascotte Elementary School playing field, Cofield said. No one else was injured, and classes went on. But children whose parents did not pick them up were bused home guarded by sheriff’s deputies, Swails said.
“The other kids seem to be holding up really well,” he said.
School Principal Carmen Arnold said special security precautions, including police guards and locked doors, would be in force when classes resumed today.
The wounded girl was Leah Wilbanks, 9, of Mascotte, said Jean Lowe of Orlando Regional Medical Center.
“She suffered two gunshot wounds to the upper arm and chest. The bullets entered and exited,” Lowe said. The hospital reported the girl’s condition as stable.
The man gave no reason for the shooting before fleeing, and police did not know his identity, or the type and caliber of the rifle, Swails said.
“There was nothing said,” Swails said. “He shot three times, he ducked down and ran away.”
It was not known if he had singled out Leah, Swails said.
Mascotte is a rural community about 30 miles west of Orlando.
S. Carolina Incident Cited
On Sept. 26, a gunman at an elementary school in Greenwood, S.C., wounded nine pupils, two fatally, and two teachers. James William Wilson, 19, is charged with murder and is undergoing psychiatric tests.
Four days earlier, a man described by friends and relatives as emotionally disturbed since serving in Vietnam stalked around a Chicago school killing four people and injuring two before a wounded policeman gunned him down.