By Jeff Martin and Alina Hartounian Associated Press
ATLANTA — When a north Georgia high school teacher was charged this week with firing a gunshot from inside a barricaded classroom and setting off a frantic lockdown and evacuation, it was not his first troubling encounter with police.
Just over a year ago, school employees and a police officer began searching Dalton High School after social studies instructor Jesse Randal Davidson went missing.
He was finally found sitting on the curb along a street a few blocks from the campus, being propped up by two school staff members, police said.
“I attempted to speak with Davidson as did staff members but no amount of stimulus would draw a response,” an officer wrote in his report. Davidson was then taken to a hospital.
In 2016, Davidson walked into the lobby of the Dalton police headquarters and told a wild story including his suspicions that someone had been murdered, police said. Detectives couldn’t verify that any of it was true, and he was taken to the hospital since he’d expressed thoughts of hurting himself, police wrote in their report on that episode.
Davidson now faces an initial court appearance Thursday afternoon on six charges including aggravated assault; terroristic threats and acts; and having a weapon on school property. It wasn’t clear Thursday whether he has an attorney yet.
No one was shot Wednesday, but the case is adding fuel to an already intense debate over whether teachers should be armed to make schools safer. The gunfire erupted with a nation on edge following a Florida school shooting that killed 17 people and ignited a new debate over gun control. President Donald Trump has advocated arming teachers.
Davidson has not told detectives what triggered his actions Wednesday, Dalton police spokesman Bruce Frazier said.
“Investigators are going to be talking to people who know him or had recent contact with him, what his mental state was, what might have led up to this,” Frazier said Thursday.
Among those who know Davidson well is Dalton High senior Rowdy Zeisig, 18, who described him as a dedicated teacher with a sharp wit.
“It was always about the students. He really wanted the students to understand the concept,” Zeisig told The Associated Press. Davidson, he said, was “always laid back, very chill, his teaching was great.”
Davidson held “cram sessions” on campus for kids studying for their advanced placement tests outside of school hours, he added.
Another student, Chondi Chastain, described him as her “favorite teacher” in a tweet about the shooting incident, but added: “We had to run out the back of the school in the rain. Students were being trampled and screaming. I dare you to tell me arming teachers will make us safe.”
Chastain said in an interview that Davidson himself had commented that arming teachers was a bad idea.
Davidson is also passionate about the Dalton High Catamounts football team, a sometimes-national powerhouse with a storied history in Georgia sports.
On game days, he was the play-by-play voice of the Catamounts on local radio, and he authored the book “Catamounts! The Glorious History of Dalton Football,” the Dalton Public Schools announced on its website in 2012, when the book was close to publication.
He’s been teaching since 2004 at Dalton High where he’s also taught history, the school system said in its article about the book.
His encounters with Dalton police led some officers to suspect he was facing mental health issues.
In March 2016, Davidson walked into the police department and told investigators he suspected a woman named Jacqueline Enrique had been slain, and said he’d been having an “internet affair” with her.
But he wouldn’t tell detectives how to reach people who could verify his story and, after a thorough investigation, detectives “were not able to verify that this Jacqueline even existed.”
“It appears the subject may be delusional or have something else that had occurred that is causing him to have these thoughts,” police wrote in their report.
After the interview, he was taken to the local hospital “based on him thinking about hurting himself.”
“The police department did make the school aware that that investigation had taken place when it was completed,” Frazier said Thursday.
Dalton school officials haven’t said what, if anything, they did after Frazier was taken to Hamilton Medical Center then. But Dalton High Principal Steve Bartoo told reporters hours after the school lockdown that “as far as I know he was fit to be at work,” and described him as an “excellent teacher, very good teacher, well-thought of in our building.”
Neither of the two earlier police reports indicate what Davidson might have been treated for when he was taken to the hospital after those incidents.
But when the staff began searching for him last year, the officer assigned to the high school contacted Hamilton Medical Center due to the teacher’s “history of medical problems,” he wrote in his report. And during his encounter with detectives on March 21, 2016, Davidson told them he was on multiple medications for depression and had just gotten out of the hospital that day.
Classes were cancelled at the high school Thursday due to the shooting, although counselors were being made available. The students, who number about 2,000, were being allowed back in to recover their belongings. Classes were to resume Friday.