The officer who fired at a student gunman at Great Mills High School in Maryland on Tuesday morning is Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill, a 34-year-old St. Mary's County sheriff's deputy with SWAT training who regularly provided security at the school.
Officials didn't confirm whether Gaskill hit the attacker, 17-year-old Austin Wyatt Rollins, or whether Rollins shot himself with the Glock semi-automatic handgun he brought to the school. But if Gaskill's shot stopped him, the deputy would be only the second resource officer to gun down an active school shooter since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, according to a year-long Washington Post analysis of dozens of school shootings.
In either case, St. Mary's County Sheriff Timothy Cameron said there was "no question" that Gaskill's quick arrival at the scene and immediate engagement with the shooter prevented more injuries at the school, about 70 miles south of Washington. Rollins had fired at a female student in a hallway, Cameron said, drawing Gaskill's response.
Gaskill was not injured, Cameron said. Gaskill has been assigned to the school of 1,600 since August.
Two students - the girl, who is 16, and a 14-year-old boy - were taken to hospitals, where the girl was listed in stable condition and the boy in good condition, according to hospital statements. It was not immediately clear who shot the 14-year-old, Cameron said.
Officials were reviewing surveillance tape Tuesday to understand what occurred in the first-floor school corridor shortly before 8 a.m. But Gaskill was immediately embraced as a hero by many who have called for more armed protectors in schools. His rapid response was held up in contrast to that of the uniformed resource officer shown on videotape waiting outside of Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during February shootings that killed 17 people.
"We should be having a school walkout to commemorate all the kids that got to walk out of school today thanks to Deputy Blaine Gaskill and his gun," wrote Twitter poster Emily Horst Weaver, whose picture shows her firing a gun. Earlier in the month she wrote, "Nothing disgusts me more than a coward."
The Twitter feed of NRA-TV, an arm of the National Rifle Association, hailed Gaskill as proof that the group's assertion that armed guards--or teachers--is a better response to school shootings than gun control of any kind.
"Schools must be the most hardened targets in this country," said one of the Tweets, quoting NRA President Wayne LaPierre. "Today that call from the #NRA was once again proven right."
As of the 2016 school year, there are more than 300 officers assigned to Maryland schools, according to the Maryland Association of School Resource Officers. Each jurisdiction throughout the state individually trains officers, with some coming from local police departments and others from county sheriff's offices.
The number of school resource officers across the nation remains unknown, with no central agency tracking that data. The National Association of School Resource Officers has about 4,500 members, but the organization estimates that there could be anywhere from 14,000 to 20,000 school resource officers across the country.
The group estimates only 20 percent of the nation's schools have a school resource officer, which the association defines as "a properly selected, specially trained sworn police officer."
The organization's director of operations, Mac Hardy, said SWAT or other high-level training such as Gaskill reported received is not unusual among school-based officers. Hardy himself was a SWAT team member for 15 years and worked in schools for 20 years. He spoke of the difficulty of putting on a gun belt every day, knowing he might have to take a young person's life.
"Luckily the right person was there," Hardy said. He had the right training to do what was necessary. Who's to say how many lives did he save today?"
Gaskill had successfully defused encounters with armed suspects before. In July 2016, he responded to a call not far from the high school during which a man confronted him on the porch of a house with a pistol in his hand. In footage recorded by Gaskill's body camera, he is heard shouting at the man to put the gun down. The man refuses at first but eventually complies and is arrested with no shots fired. The man was found guilty in February of first-degree assault and use of a firearm in the commission of a violent crime, according to reports.
A Facebook page for a woman who appears to be the officer's wife, Amber Gaskill, features a series of inspirational messages. One, displayed against a backdrop of the American flag, reads: "I'm a wife standing with the Thin Blue Line."
In February, she posted a picture of slain Prince George's Cpl. Mujahid Ramzziddin and wrote: "This makes me so, so sad....and hits so close to home. My heart breaks for his family."
Ramzziddin was fatally shot when he was off duty and helping a neighbor who had asked for his assistance in a domestic dispute, police have said.