GAUTIER, Miss. — A university instructor told police he killed his girlfriend at a home they shared and investigators found a note there that said “I am so sorry I wish I could take it back” — but there was no hint he was headed a few hundred miles north to kill a colleague, police said Tuesday.
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Shannon Lamb called 911 on Monday, telling a dispatcher he had killed 41-year-old Amy Prentiss at the home they shared in Gautier along the Gulf coast. In the call, Lamb refuses to give his name but says that family contact information can be found on Prentiss’ phone. He says that their dog is still in the house, and “he’s a sweet dog and he’s not going to bother anybody but I’m sure he’s upset.”
When officers responded, the found the note written in all capital letters on a white, lined notepad, signed by Lamb: “I loved Amy and she is the only person who ever loved me.”
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Police say Lamb attacked again about 45 minutes after that Monday morning 911 call, this time shooting Delta State University professor Ethan Schmidt, 39, inside his office.
Schmidt, a history professor, was shot three times in his neck, cheek and near the right eye in the doorway of his office with a book bag on his shoulder, an indication that he was either entering or leaving, Bolivar County Deputy Coroner Murray Roark said.
Lamb killed himself hours later as police closed in on him during a manhunt. At some point after shootings, he told family members he had no intention of going to jail. Relatives relayed that information to authorities.
Matt Hoggatt, a spokesman for Gautier police, said during a news conference Tuesday that Lamb had no criminal record, and there was no indication that he and Prentiss had a history of criminal domestic violence.
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Police have not released a motive for either shooting. University President William LaForge said he didn’t know of any conflict between Lamb and Schmidt but “obviously there was something in Mr. Lamb’s mind.”
A book published by Schmidt says in the acknowledgements that Schmidt considered himself “so lucky to have such wonderful people to share my academic life with,” including Lamb.
Lamb had earlier asked for a medical leave of absence, saying he had a health issue of some sort, but LaForge gave no further information about it.
This photo provided by Gautier, Miss., police at a news conference on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, shows a hand-written note investigators found at the house where Amy Prentiss’s body was found on Monday.
(Gautier, Miss Police via AP)
The shooting led to an hours-long lockdown at the college during which frightened students and faculty hid in classrooms and closets as authorities scoured the campus looking for Lamb. The campus was eventually cleared by police and authorities later found Lamb when a license plate reader picked up his plate as he crossed a bridge over the Mississippi River from Arkansas back into Mississippi, Cleveland police Chief Charles “Buster” Bingham said.
Lamb killed himself with a single .380 pistol shot to the forehead in the backyard of a home south of his parents’ home on the outskirts of Greenville, Mississippi, said Washington County Coroner Methel Johnson. He left his car still running in the driveway. It was not immediately clear why Lamb went to that home, though Johnson said she believes he knew the people who lived there.
Lamb started working at the university, which has 3,500 students in a city of about 12,000, in 2009 and taught geography and education classes. He received a doctorate in education in the spring. He was teaching two online classes this semester, but an in-person class had been cancelled, LaForge said.
Lamb’s career prospects at Delta State may have taken a turn because of a policy change.
After LaForge became president, he hired a new provost, Charles McAdams, who ended a practice whereby an instructor who earned a doctorate could automatically join the tenure track and become an assistant professor. LaForge said that practice violated state policy which requires an open search for new professor positions.
Brandon Beavers, an education major, said he had a class with Lamb last year.
“It was like that class you look forward to,” Beavers said. “It was just cool.”
However, he said Lamb seemed agitated.
“He was really jittery, like there was something wrong with him,” Beavers said. “He was never in a bad mood, but he was real shaky.”
One of Lamb’s longtime friends described him Tuesday as smart, charismatic and funny. Carla Hairston said she and Lamb both grew up in Greenville, Mississippi.
Hairston said she was 15 and Lamb was 20 when they met through mutual friends. She and her friends were in high school, and he was the cool older guy who tried for several years to teach her to play guitar. He was a good teacher but she was an uncoordinated student, she said.
“He was quite the heartthrob back then. All the girls would melt when he was around,” said Hairston, now 40 and living in the Jackson suburb of Brandon.
“He had the Elvis effect,” Hairston said. “His voice was just like velvet, and people just loved to hear him talk.”
Hairston said even when she wanted to be a rebellious teen and stay out late, Lamb made sure she and her friends went home by curfew. She said he was whip smart and would often quote song lyrics in conversation.
“He made corny and dorky look good,” Hairston said.
Lamb and Prentiss had apparently been dating for some time. In the 911 call, Lamb said “I killed my wife,” but there was no record of them ever marrying.
Prentiss’ ex-husband said they divorced 15 years ago but remained friends and had a daughter who’s now 19.
“She was completely devastated,” he said of his daughter. “She and her mother were absolutely best friends.”
Schmidt, the slain professor, directed the first-year seminar program and specialized in Native American and colonial history, said Don Allan Mitchell, an English professor at the school. He was married and had three young children.
Karen Manners Smith, a history professor at Emporia State University in Kansas, where Schmidt studied, called him “a super competent human being.”
“He was president of his fraternity, in student government. He was an absolutely delightful student,” she said.
At the campus of 3,500 students, the police blockades had been taken down, people were out cutting the grass and traffic moved normally, although there was not a lot of pedestrian traffic. A vigil was planned for Tuesday night, and classes resume Wednesday.
“We’re trying to get our students to come back,” LaForge said. “The crisis is over. This is a day of healing.”
Sophomore Robert Holcomb attended a counseling session with dozens of other students and faculty. He was worried some students wouldn’t return after the campus slaying.
“It was a chance to talk and share experiences,” said Holcomb, a 32-year-old international business major from Seattle. “Some people having a harder time than others.”