GAUTIER, Miss. (AP) — In a 911 call, his voice only slightly shaky, college professor Shannon Lamb told police he had shot his girlfriend and officers needed to get over to their house. Lamb made a point to say his “sweet dog” was there alive and probably upset, and said the dead woman’s family contacts could be found on her phone.
Inside the home, officers found Amy Prentiss’ body and a hand-written note scribbled on a white legal pad: “I am so very sorry I wish I could take it back I loved Amy and she is the only woman who ever loved me,” read the letter authorities say was signed by Lamb.
There was no indication that Lamb, who was teaching two online classes for Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, had already traveled 300 miles to the school’s campus, where police believe he shot and killed a well-liked history professor, Ethan Schmidt, in the doorway to his office. Delta State University police chief Lynn Buford said university officials heard about the shooting at 10:18 a.m. Monday. He said Lamb made the fateful 911 call sometime after that.
By the end of the day, there would be one more death: Lamb took his own life as police closed in on him.
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A day after the school shooting forced students and faculty to hide behind locked doors, authorities were still trying to piece together what motivated Lamb. The details released by investigators at both ends of the state as well as students and staff who knew him helped paint a picture of a talented but possibly troubled teacher.
Students said they looked forward to his class. Police in Gautier, where Prentiss died, said he had no history of violence or criminal record. Schmidt himself had included Lamb in a book he wrote where he acknowledged the “wonderful people” he shared his academic life with. Both taught in the Division of Social Sciences and History, which lists 17 faculty members, and many students took courses from both.
At the same time, there were some inclinations of problems. A student who praised Lamb, Brandon Beavers, said he also seemed agitated and jittery, “like there was something wrong with him.” Another student, Mikel Sykes, said Lamb told him he was dealing with stress at the end of the 2014-15 academic year.
Lamb had earlier asked Delta State University for a medical leave of absence, saying he had a health issue of some sort. This year, he was only teaching two online classes. Recent changes in the university’s hiring policies meant that the doctorate Lamb had worked so hard to earn would not guarantee him an automatic tenure track to become an assistant professor.
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.”
Those are questions Lamb can no longer answer.
After fleeing the campus, police later picked up Lamb’s trail when he crossed back into Mississippi from Arkansas. Before he could be apprehended, Lamb killed himself with a single .38-caliber pistol in the backyard of a home about a mile south of his parents’ home on the outskirts of Greenville, Mississippi, said Washington County Coroner Methel Johnson.
His car was 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 grew up in the area.
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.
One of Lamb’s longtime friends described him as smart, charismatic and funny. Carla 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 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.
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. They had a dog named Lightning that lived with them at the brick house that backs up to a bayou in Gautier. Police said the dog was OK.
Prentiss’ ex-husband, Shawn O’Steen, said they divorced 15 years ago but remained friends and had a daughter who’s now 19.
“She was completely devastated,” O’Steen said of his daughter. “She and her mother were absolutely best friends.”
O’Steen said he had not met Lamb but heard through his daughter Abigail that Lamb was interested in music and played the blues. Lamb met Prentiss when he and Abigail both performed at a summer fair three years ago. Later, they played together in the occasional gig.
O’Steen said his daughter writes and sings her own music. Prentiss was a nurse who worked for various companies online.
Mike Shaffer, a bartender and sometimes entertainment coordinator at The Julep Room, a dimly lit bar near Gautier, said he last saw Lamb and Prentiss the night of Sept. 5, after Lamb had finished playing his guitar and harmonica for a sparse crowd. There was no sign of anything amiss.
“Just a happy couple,” he said. “Just a happy couple. We were cutting up and throwing one-liners at each other. I mean, they both had a good sense of wit about them.”
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.
He studied at Emporia State University in Kansas and was president of his fraternity and student government.
On the Delta State campus in Cleveland on Tuesday night, about 900 people, including faculty members, staff, students, and members of the community, attended a candlelight memorial.
Schmidt’s wife, Liz, and brother Jeff Schmidt also attended the vigil, during which the university choir sang “Bright Morning Star” and “Amazing Grace.”
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.”
Amy and Rogelio Solis reported from Cleveland, Mississippi. Associated Press writers Emily Wagster Pettus in Greenville, Mississippi, and Rebecca Santana in New Orleans contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to reflect that police are now saying Lamb made the 911 call after shooting Schmidt, and that while Lamb referred to Prentiss as his wife in the 911 call, there is no indication the two ever married.