Courthouse shooter was school volunteer, prompts changes for background checks

Courthouse Shooter was school volunteer

WATERVLIET, MICH. - The 13 Watchdog team is uncovering troublesome ties between the Berrien County Courthouse shooter and a nearby elementary school.

We've now confirmed that Larry Gordon was a classroom volunteer at South Elementary in Watervliet for over a year, despite a long criminal record.

WZZM 13 Watchdog Alex Shabad talked to the superintendent about how it could have happened.

It was difficult, if not impossible, to predict what happened in the courthouse that Monday. Two bailiff's were shot and killed. However, it's not nearly as hard to find the shooter's long criminal past.

"If I had a way of predicting the future, absolutely he would not have been in the school," says Kevin Schooley, superintedent of the Watervliet Public Schools.

Yet the 13 Watchdog team has learned that just a few months before the shooting, Larry Gordon was volunteering at South Elementary; his daughter's school. We found a photo on Facebook, which a parent says shows Gordon and his ex-wife helping out in the classroom.

"It's my understanding that he attended classroom parties," says Schooley.

The school principal says Gordon started as a classroom volunteer in November 2014.

Most recently, he had volunteered for holiday parties last Halloween and Valentines day of 2016. Just two months later, police found a 17 year-old girl in a shed who they say Gordon held captive, and raped.

"We do background checks, unfortunately the background check I saw I didn't see any violent crimes," says Schooley.

However, the Watchdog team has learned Gordon had a criminal history dating back to the 90's, including two federal convictions for possession of a pipe bomb and a felony larceny conviction in 2013.

"We keep an eye on people, but I also want the public to have access to their public school," says Schooley.

We asked Schooley if that applies to people like Gordon, who had a criminal record.

"Obviously, with Mr. Gordon, it's not somebody you want in the school," says Schooley.

The school never checked Gordon's record for federal crimes. The principal says that's because employees get fingerprinted, but not volunteers. She says they did a background check for Gordon once in fall of 2014 and then again in September of 2015.

We asked Schooley why they didn't look at federal court records.

"That's what we're looking to bulk up," says Schooley.

Schooley says he's focused on making improvements to school safety.

"I wish this wouldn't of happened but it did, my concentration is how to get better," says Schooley. "Moving forward we're really vetting our volunteers a lot harder."

Schooley says that also includes the possibility of more frequent background checks.

The superintendent says the changes will be implemented this fall. He says the process will involve a conversation with the school board and the whole community.

© 2017 WZZM-TV


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