GREENSBORO — An armed man who came to Smith High on Monday threatened to start shooting in the cafeteria during the busy lunch period, according to one of the staff members who confronted him.
“He was like, I am about to start shooting in the cafeteria or to ‘let off’ as he put it,” Patrick Jordan, a school behavior intervention specialist, said Wednesday. “I was like, ‘Hey man, you don’t need to do that, just stay calm.’ ”
Police said in warrants that 29-year-old Steve Brantley Spence traveled to Greensboro from Virginia with a “kill list” including two adults he expected to find at Smith. Greensboro police have said they believe he acted alone and there is no ongoing threat to the school.
Spence, who is from Norfolk, Va., is in Guilford County jail with bail set at $1 million after police say he went into the school’s cafeteria at lunchtime carrying two guns and ammunition.
Along with Jordan, Lashonti Hines, an assistant principal, and D.K. Evans, the school resource officer, helped thwart Spence that day.
Jordan first noticed Spence in the school’s courtyard. Jordan said he recognizes every staff member at the school, so he knew Spence wasn’t an employee and he didn’t have a visitor badge to show he had permission to be there. So Jordan trailed Spence at a distance, through the entrance to the school’s “B” building and into the cafeteria.
He said Spence saw him coming toward him and started to go out the propped open door from the cafeteria into the hallway.
At Jordan’s “Excuse me,” the man turned.
A grin stretched across his face and his hand rested on the handle of a gun in the beltline of his pants, Jordan recalled.
He told Jordan he wanted him to come closer. And he wanted him to radio for two people to come down to the cafeteria. Those people are a current and former staff member of the school, according to police warrants and public information from the school district.
Jordan said he sensed his own life was in jeopardy, as well as potentially the lives of the students in that cafeteria, one of whom was his teenage son. So he began to talk with Spence.
“This entire time I was taking steps backward, like baby steps backward, trying to create as much distance between he and myself, without again agitating him,” he said.
He suggested he would be better able to help Spence once the lunch period was over and the students were out of the cafeteria. He was troubled that Spence already knew the exact time the lunch period ended. The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Va., reported Tuesday that Spence previously worked as an assistant football coach at high schools in Norfolk and Chesapeake, Va.
Jordan also radioed to ask the individuals Spence mentioned to come to the cafeteria. They weren’t among the small number of staff with radios, so he thought there wasn’t any chance they would actually show up and his co-workers might notice something was odd in what he said. He thought it could help Spence stay more patient.
As far as he could tell, the students around him didn’t notice there was a gun in play or crisis going on.
“I didn’t want them to go into a panic and who knows, again, for him, what kind of reaction that would have caused,” he said.
Hines, the assistant principal, didn’t catch the radioed message itself, but went to look for Jordan to see what he needed. She saw from his body language that something was very wrong.
She’s been at the school since 2013 and has worked with Jordan since he joined the school in 2015. So they can read cues from each other without speaking, she said.
By this point, Spence had backed up into the hallway. Hines, not knowing about the gun, stepped between Spence and Jordan.
She asked what he needed and then stepped closer when she didn’t hear all of his response.
“That’s when he pulled (the gun) out and just said, ‘Get back!’ ” she said.
Hines dashed out of the building and into the courtyard, calling on her radio for a lockdown while headed toward the school office where she thought the school resource officer would be. Hines said she wasn’t thinking about the danger of turning her back on someone with a gun. She was focused on locking down the school.
Some students, she said, also began running when they saw her movement and body language. Most she said, never saw Spence.
Meanwhile, in the cafeteria, Jordan was radioing for the school resource officer and ushering students out of the cafeteria and into a lockable classroom. They aren’t entirely sure what Spence did in those moments, but not long after, Hines noticed Spence had made it into the courtyard too.
Evans, the school resource officer, confronted Spence there. Evans has served the Greensboro Police Department for eight years, according to police, but had only been at Smith for a few months.
Evans didn’t want to be interviewed about Monday’s events, according to the department’s spokesman.
Capt. Renae Sigmon, his supervisor, described how Evans ran up to Spence and unholstered his weapon. She said by this point, Spence had a gun in each hand. At the sight of Evans, she said, Spence fled across the outdoor campus toward the area of Vanstory Street. Evans pursued.
Evans had radioed for help, and some patrol officers met him and Spence in an area near Vanstory Street. Sigmon said the department is still determining the order of events during the arrest, but at some point one of the other officers used a Taser on Spence. He was arrested without any shots fired.
“I believe that we averted tragedy on Monday,” she said. The police department, she said, considers the arrest of the suspect without harm to anyone a success.
“I commend the staff for staying calm,” she said. “To have that presence of mind through this entire encounter takes a lot, and that needs to be recognized.”