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Year of Tragedy Continues with Shooting at Austin-East

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One person was killed and another wounded in a shooting at Austin-East Magnet High School Monday afternoon, continuing a year marred by gun violence in east Knoxville.

An Austin-East student reportedly brandished a weapon, according to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch. He was killed and was pronounced dead at the scene. A Knoxville Police Department officer was wounded and taken to UT Medical Center with a non-life threatening wound. Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon told reporters she spoke with the officer and his wife, and said the officer was in good spirits.

Rausch and Knoxville’s police department said an armed student was reported in the building. Two officers responded.

"Upon arrival, officers located the individual inside a school restroom. They ordered him out, but he refused to comply," a TBI statement read. "As officers entered the restroom, the subject reportedly fired shots, striking an officer. One officer returned fire."

No other victims were reported. Rausch declined to provide many details, citing the early stage of the investigation. No arrests had been made as of 8:00 p.m.

The shooting is the latest in a disturbing trend in east Knoxville. Four Austin-East students have been killed in shootings since New Year’s Day, all of them teenagers. Mayor Indya Kincannon, KPD Chief Eve Thomas, community and faith leaders, and parents have discussed ways to address the problem. After the fourth shooting, Knoxville’s city council boosted the budget for violence prevention efforts. Last week, the city signed a contract with Cities United to find and work with community groups already dedicated to reducing gun violence.

A couple of hours after the shooting, parents and local residents gathered on a grassy embankment outside the school in an attempt to learn more information. Sheenan Lundy, a parent who spoke with WUOT’s Claire Heddles, criticized the delay in alerting parents. She exchanged text messages with her daughter, who was inside Austin-East, long before a text message from the school confirmed the shooting. Lundy’s daughter was safe.

State Rep. Sam McKenzie, who represents East Knoxville in the state House, called for a moment of silence on the House floor Monday evening. In a statement, McKenzie, an Austin-East alum, said he was at a loss to describe his sadness.

“I do not have the necessary words to convey my thoughts about the spiraling violent acts conducted by members of my community on members of my community,” McKenzie said. “We must make sure we take every step and make every effort to prevent these tragedies from continuing to occur.”

At 7:15 p.m., Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas delivered brief messages of condolence and pleas for an end to gun violence. Kincannon noted that Monday was the first day of Youth Violence Prevention Week. They did not take questions from reporters.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will take the lead in probing the shooting. Rausch, a former Knoxville police chief, said his personal connection made the shooting especially painful. "We spent a lot of time working at Austin East and I have some great memories of interactions with students there," he told reporters at a press conference.

TBI will review body camera footage and interview witnesses to establish what happened, Rausch said. He cautioned the information released at the Monday evening press conference is preliminary and subject to change as investigators learn more.

Knox County Schools said Austin-East would not hold classes Tuesday or Wednesday. Thomas told reporters counselors will be made available for students, faculty and staff.

This story is being updated.