Upon arrival, officers located a person, later identified to be a student, in the restroom. Officials said the officers ordered the student out, but he refused to comply. As the officers entered the restroom, officials said, the student reportedly fired shots and struck an officer.
One officer returned fire, authorities said. The student was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said.
The injured police officer was shot in the upper leg and taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center. He was in serious condition and required surgery, Knoxville Police Chief Eve M. Thomas said.
Thomas said she never wants to receive a call like the one that came in on Monday. “It’s our worst fear … an active shooter in a school.”
Still, David Rausch, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said it was important to note that the student had not done anything with the firearm until the officers engaged with him.
“This wasn’t a school shooting. This was an officer-involved shooting inside of a school,” Rausch told reporters. He said the two things were “much different.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was asked to investigate at the request of the district attorney because officers were involved, he said.
One person was detained for further investigation, officials said.
“What a sad day for the family that lost their loved one and the families of the officers who had to get engaged in this,” said Rausch, who spent 25 years with the Knoxville Police Department, including seven as chief of police. “It’s a sad day for Knoxville and it’s tough for Austin-East.”
Multiple law enforcement agencies responded to the incident and the police initially locked down the school. By midafternoon, students who were not involved had been released to their families.
Rausch said his agency would interview witnesses and examine video footage including from officers’ body cameras as part of its investigation.
Ahead of remarks on an unrelated subject, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) acknowledged the situation at the school, calling it “a very difficult and tragic situation.”
The shooting came just a few days after Lee signed legislation allowing most adults in the state to carry a handgun without a permit. At the time of the signing, the governor said on Twitter: “I signed constitutional carry today because it shouldn’t be hard for law-abiding Tennesseans to exercise their #2A rights.”
Monday’s incident follows a deadly several months in the area. Since January, four Knoxville teens have died by gunfire, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. That includes a 15-year-old who was accidentally shot by another teenager in January and a 16-year-old who was fatally shot in February while driving home from school. A 15-year-old girl was found shot outside her home, the newspaper said.
Rausch said this week had been designated to focus on youth violence interruption and said he hoped the community would move forward in a positive way.
“My prayer is the community will come together,” he said.
School officials said Austin-East, a performing arts magnet school, would be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.