GREAT MILLS, Md. — Two years after an event that sent shockwaves through the Southern Maryland community, we look back and remember the lost life of Jaelynn Rose Willey on the grounds of Great Mills High School(GMHS) that Tuesday morning.

The sequence…

Date: Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Time: approximately 7:55 a.m. —  What many anticipated would be an ordinary day at school was about to change. Lives were about to be impacted by gun violence, bringing the nationally trending issue of school shootings into the backyard of Southern Maryland. Dark clouds that had brought rain set the tone for what would become a painstaking day for a majority of the community.

Austin Wyatt Rollins, 17 years old, entered GMHS where he was a student. In his possession, his father’s legally owned 9mm handgun. 

Several minutes later, Rollins made contact with Jaelynn Willey, a 16 year old girl who he had a prior relationship with.

Jaelynn Willey was shot in the head and was eventually taken to University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center in critical condition.

One other student that was in the hallway, the 14-year-old Desmond Barnes, also sustained injuries to the back of his thigh as a result of that same gunfire. Barnes would eventually be transported to MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital and released on Mar. 21.

Time: 7:56 a.m — Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill was on duty as a school resource officer during the shooting. Gaskill engaged the suspected shooter within seconds of hearing the initial gunfire.

Gaskill fired one shot at the shooter, who simultaneously fired a shot as well; the shooter sustained a life threatening injury from the exchange. An investigation would later detail how the shooter had fired one fatal shot to himself, and Gaskill fired one non-fatal shot to the shooter’s weapon.

Gaskill’s quick response “potentially saved many lives”, according to officials. 

Time: 7:58 a.m. — St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office and Maryland State Police personnel responded to Great Mills High School. Additionally detectives from the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division arrived to begin preliminary investigations.

The shooter was subsequently transported to University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center.

Upon further investigation, this incident was eventually considered not to be a random act of violence.

Time: approximately 8:00 a.m. — The process for removing students from the premises to be picked up at Leonardtown High School begins. As does the grieving…

Time: approximately 11:00 a.m. — The shooter was confirmed dead from gunshot injuries. Following that, he was transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, Maryland for an autopsy.

Time: approximately 1:30 p.m. — A press conference featuring Gov. Larry Hogan[R], St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron, St. Mary’s County School’s Superintendent James Scott Smith and GMHS Principal Jack Heibel took place at Chancellor’s Run Regional Park.

“We are devastated and we are saddened but we will stay strong. This could had happened anywhere at any time… We’re going to find a way to get through this.” Heibel said, while holding back tears.

Time: 6:00 p.m. — The Church of the Ascension invites the public to attend a vigil for the victims and community. The large and spontaneous attendance is described as “unbelievable” by some members of the community.



Date: Thursday, March 22, 2018

Time: 8:00 p.m. — The Willey family holds a press conference at the University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center to give an update on Jaelynn Willey’s status.

“As of now Jaelynn is still on life support, but she will not make it. We will be taking her off life support this evening.” said Willey, with family members by her side.

Time: 11:34 p.m. — The St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office announces that on behalf of the Willey family, Jaelynn Rose Willey passed away surrounded by her family. 

Date: Thursday, March 29, 2018

Time: 2:00 pm to 7:00 p.m. — Visitation services on behalf of Jaelynn’s passing are held at the Hollywood Fire Department.

Date: Friday, March 30, 2018

Time: 10:00 a.m. — Jaelynn Rose Willey’s funeral takes place.

But what happened next?

A community of people came together in a time of need to mourn the loss. People are unable to find an open space that isn’t supporting the phrase #WeAreGreatMills. Lives were changed.

Fast forward to now, the Willey family have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the St. Mary’s County School Board as of January of this year. According to the lawsuit, the relationship of Jaelynn and the shooter went south as a result of alleged harassment, and school officials “did nothing” to avert the shooting according to the lawsuit.

Daniel and Melissa Willey, the parents, allege that school personnel were aware that their daughter was being harassed and that the shooter was physically abusive to her on repeated instances. Additionally, the two listed off a number of problems that they found leading up to that stormy March day, that resulted in the loss of their daughter’s life. The couple filed their suit in the U.S. District Court located in Greenbelt, and are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Nevertheless, let this instance serve as a reminder of how precious the lives of those around us can be.

And much like how people say the day after 9/11 is when people pulled together unlike ever before, or on Mar. 21 after a school shooting in Southern Maryland, crisis can bring a community together unlike anything else. 

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