An Illinois school resource officer is being hailed as a hero after police say he shot a recently expelled student who opened fire in a gym filled with graduating seniors. Mark Dallas stopped 19-year-old Matt Milby after the former student fired several shots Wednesday morning at Dixon High School, WQAD-TV reports. Milby was shot in the shoulder and is expected to survive. Dallas, 50, whose kids attend the school, was not wounded and none of the students were shot.
“I could not be more proud of the police officer and the way he responded to the situation. With shots ringing out through the hallways of the school, he charged towards the suspect and confronted him head-on,” Dixon Police Chief Steven Howell said at a press conference. “Because of his heroic actions countless lives were saved.”
Here’s what you need to know about Dixon High school resource officer Mark Dallas and the shooting:
1. The Gunman Opened Fire in the Gym Where Seniors Were Gathered for a Graduation Walk-Through
Police say the gunman opened fire about 8 a.m. in the gym at Dixon High School. According to Sauk Valley Media, about 150 seniors were getting ready for a graduation practice when a recently expelled student, 19-year-old Matt Milby, walked into the gym and began shooting. The school’s graduation is scheduled for Sunday, the newspaper reports.
As students began to run, Mark Dallas, the Dixon Police Department school resource officer assigned to the high school, confronted Milby, chased him out of the school and fired back at him. Milby was struck in the shoulder and is expected to survive. He was taken to the hospital with a non-life-threatening injury and is in police custody. Dixon Police Chief Steven Howell said the former student “fired several shots near the west gym” during the incident. Howell said the gunman fired several shots at Dallas as the officer pursued Milby out of the school, but Dixon was not struck.
Brandon Stehl, a senior at Dixon High School, told NBC Chicago he was sitting in the gym waiting to learn where he would receive his cap and gown when the shots were fired. “All of a sudden out of nowhere, you just here pop, pop, pop!” he told the news station. “Sounds like firecrackers, and then there’s dead silence. Then all of sudden a teacher comes in and says, ‘Go, go, go!’ and everybody floods out of the school and into the cafeteria.”
2. The Police Chief Said Dixon Is ‘Forever Indebted’ to Officer Dallas ‘for His Service & His Bravery’
Praise for Mark Dallas has rolled in from local and state officials, along with parents, students and members of the community and people around the country on social media. Dixon Police Chief Steven Howell said, “We are forever indebted to him for his service and his bravery.” City Administrator Danny Langloss, whose daughter was among the seniors in the gym, told Sauk Valley Media, “”We’re lucky the officer was there. His brave actions saved a lot of lives.”
Lee County Sheriff John Simonton also praised Dallas, crediting him with “saving enormous amounts of lives.” Simonton added, “Certainly it is a horrific event that took place today, but it could have been a lot worse.”
Dixon Mayor Liandro Arellanno Jr. told the Chicago Tribune, “From the angle I’m looking at right now, at lot of things went right today when a great many of them could have (gone) wrong. Things could have gone much worse.” Illinois Governor Bruce Rautner tweeted, “Today, we should all be very thankful to school resource officer Mark Dallas for his bravery and quick action to immediately diffuse a dangerous situation at Dixon High School.”
3. Dallas, Whose Son Is a Senior at the School, Is a Former K-9 Handler Currently Assigned to Dixon High School as Its School Resource Officer
Dallas is a former K-9 officer, according to the North American Police Work Dog Association’s website. Dallas was the handler for K-9 “Ronnie,” who retired in July 2008. Dallas is currently assigned as the school resource officer for Dixon High School. It is not clear how long he has been in that position. It is also not known how long Dallas, 50, has worked for the police department.
According to the Dixon city website, “The School Resource Officer (SRO) is a certified law enforcement officer who is permanently assigned to provide coverage to a school or a set of schools. The SRO is trained to perform the following three roles: law enforcement officer; law-related counselor; and law-related education teacher. The SRO is not necessarily a DARE officer, security guard, or officer who has been placed temporarily in a school in response to a emergency crisis, but rather acts as a comprehensive resource for his or her school.”
The school resource officer program was first put in place by the Dixon Police Department in 2000 using funding from a COPS federal grant to help prevent school violence. ” During this time, the United States suffered the loss of students who fell victim to school shootings, which led to the evolution of the SRO. The School Resource Officer’s main responsibility is the safety of the students and staff at the schools. Even though the School Resource Officers have offices at their designated schools and spend the majority of their work day at those schools, they are still full time sworn officers with the Department. The SRO must work closely with the students and staff while acting as a liaison for the police department,” the city website states.
Dallas is married with two children, a son and a daughter, according to his Twitter account, where he often posts about Dixon High School and its sports teams, drama club and other school events. His son is a senior at Dixon High School, but it is not known if he was in the gym at the time of the incident. His daughter also attends the school.
4. Dallas Was Put on Paid Administrative Leave, Per Protocol, as the Shooting Is Investigated
Mark Dallas been put on paid administrative leave, per Dixon Police Department protocol, Police Chief Steven Howell told reporters. An investigation into the shooting is being conducted by local and federal authorities. Both the FBI and ATF responded to the scene, along with state police, the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and the Dixon Police Department.
Police have not officially released the names of the officer and suspect, but both were identified by students and others in the community. Investigators have also not said if they have determined why the former student went to the high school with a gun Wednesday morning. Authorities have also not said why the suspect, Matt Milby, was expelled from Dixon High School and when that occurred.
Brandon Stehl, who was in the gym, told Sauk Valley Media he initially thought it was a senior prank. “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 told the newspaper. “I come back to school for one day, and this is something I never thought would happen; I wish it wasn’t real.” Stehl said he knows Milby, and described him as “hot-headed and reckless,” but not as someone who was bullied or had emotional issues.
Another student, Brianna Johnson, told the newspaper, “He seemed like a really nice kid, but then everything changed and he was angry and high all the time.” Her friend, Kylie Shaw added that Milby had a reputation as a “troublemaker.”
5. Police Say Students Barricaded Doors & Took Cover as the Incident Unfolded, Following Protocols From Recent Active Shooter Training
Dixon Police Chief Steven Howell said students followed recent active shooter training when the shots rang out, CBS News reports. He said students sheltered in place and barricaded classroom doors with bookcases and desks. All Dixon public schools were put on lockdown as a precaution.
Brianna Johnson, a senior at the school, told Sauk Valley Media that she saw Matt Milby peeking into the window of the gym before he entered. He was holding a “long-barreled gun of sort,” and began shooting, Johnson told the newspaper. Another student, Kylie Shaw, 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! We just thought it was firecrackers, then we saw pieces of the ceiling coming down.”
The students said they heard three or four shots before a gym teacher, Andrew McKay, slammed the door to the foyer and told everyone to “go, go, go.” Shaw said “everyone was sprinting in all different directions.”
Dixon is located in Lee County, Illinois, about 80 miles away from Chicago and is home to about 15,700 people. About 800 students attend Dixon High School, which is best known as the alma mater of President Ronald Reagan. Lee County Sheriff John Simonton told reporters, “It could happen here. It doesn’t matter how large or small your community is. It happened here today. The bottom line is, they were prepared.”
“As we continue to gather more information about the shooting incident at Dixon High School this morning, I extend my deepest gratitude to the Dixon Police Department, and especially the School Resource Officer on-site for their swift action today in keeping our students, teachers and community safe,” U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who represents the region in Congress, said in a statement.
Shaw told Sauk Valley Media, “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. “It’s such a scary reality that we had to live through … but people were there for each other, and we all came together as a student body. We all did a really good job coming together, and I think in the face of such adversity, we handled it well.”
She added, “It’s just too bad that it had to be one of our graduation classmate. It’s just so sad that it happened, especially is such a close-knit community like Dixon.”