PANAMA CITY, Fla., — The security guard credited with saving the lives of several Bay County School Board members got back to his holiday role Thursday, working as Santa Claus on behalf of the poor children in his area.
Mike Jones, who is well known locally as "Salvage Santa" for his work providing refurbished Christmas gifts for needy children, shot a gunman Tuesday after the man began firing at members of the Bay County School Board. Jones had just arrived at the building before Clay Duke interrupted the meeting. After being hit several times, Duke shot himself in the head.
"I wasn't there five minutes and I was in a gunfight," Jones, 57, said at a news conference. "They said the gun battle lasted 13 seconds, but it seemed like it was forever."
Jones, a former School Board member who now serves as the school district's security chief, said he was supposed to be on vacation but was in the building to be available to answer some questions during the meeting.
The retired police detective said he wants to forget the showdown and get back to his efforts helping the less fortunate.
Thursday, he got a $3,500 donation from a local pizza firm to buy gifts for needy kids.
"He's a genuinely good, good guy," said Sgt. Jeff Becker, spokesman for the Panama City Police Department. "You need something, you call Mike Jones."
Jones was an investigator for the Panama City Police Department, but he said he had never shot anyone. Jones is widely admired in Bay County for his generosity and the "Salvage Santa" program that he began nearly three decades ago. He personally refurbishes bicycles and persuades merchants to donate toys to children who would otherwise be without at Christmas.
Duke's wife, Rebecca, is among the thousands of Bay County residents who admire Jones. She went out of her way to commend him on doing his job — even though it cost her husband his life.
Those who were saved inside the boardroom said they survived only because of Jones' heroics.
"There is no question about that," Bay County schools superintendent Bill Husfelt said. "We're here because of Mike Jones."
Meanwhile, a recording of a 911 call was released in which assistant schools superintendent Nancy Boyd talked a dispatcher through the ordeal.
"There's some man here with a gun," Boyd told the dispatcher. "He said 'you fired my wife' and pulled out his gun."
Boyd described what she saw on a video feed from the meeting room as Duke fired.
Authorities said 56-year-old Duke was distraught that his wife had been fired by the school district earlier this year. He was the only one hurt Tuesday.