Authorities will take more time before deciding if they will pursue firearm charges against a longtime math teacher who pulled out a handgun in his classroom and shot himself in the face.
Jonathan Freeman, 43, arrived at school Thursday morning before students and fired one round from a gun he purchased in July, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jesse Hambrick said on Monday.
The former Lithia Springs High School Teacher of the Year then stumbled out of his classroom. School employees found him and called 911, Hambrick said.
He said the shooting was intentional. Neither he nor a school district spokesman said they knew why Freeman shot himself or chose to do so inside the school where he has taught since 1999.
“I don’t know what caused this trigger,” Hambrick said. “They have told me this morning in a meeting that these were personal issues that he was dealing with that he decided to bring to the workplace, and I can’t answer as to why.”
The shooting isn’t connected to issues involving school district employees or students, Hambrick said.
While it is the policy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to avoid naming suicide victims, the newspaper is using the teacher’s name due to the public nature of his attempt and disturbance it caused. The high school of about 1,500 students did not open Thursday and students who had arrived were sent home.
Freeman remained hospitalized in stable condition Monday, said Douglas County School System spokeswoman Karen Stroud.
A teacher told a 911 dispatcher that Freeman was “alert and talking” after shooting himself, according to a recording of the call obtained by the AJC.
The school district does not allow teachers to have weapons in its schools.
The investigation has concluded, but Hambrick said the sheriff’s office has two years to pursue charges for possession and use of a firearm on school grounds.
Hambrick could not say if authorities will seek criminal charges.
“We think that the ethical thing to do is to let him focus on the healing process that he’s going through,” he said. “We will continue to worry about his well-being.”
Likewise, the district will pause before it begins disciplinary proceedings related to the incident, which Stroud described as an “extremely isolated incident involving one person.”
“At this point there’s been no dismissal hearing because that would be premature while he’s still in the hospital. That will come along at the appropriate time,” she said.
Investigators do not think Freeman intended to harm anyone but himself. Hambrick would not say if the teacher left a suicide note.
Stroud called Freeman an “exemplary employee” and well-respected by colleagues, who chose him as the school’s Teacher of the Year in 2014-2015.
“The people who worked directly with him are extremely distraught about the incident and could not believe that he was the person,” she said.
Freeman is a 1992 graduate of Dacula High School and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia in 1996, according to district employee records. He studied for a master’s degree at the University of West Georgia, a biography on the school website states.
He previously taught math at Jasper County High School and Oglethorpe County High School.
Austin Miller, a 2010 Lithia Springs graduate, was shocked to read about the shooting on social media. He remembered Freeman as a science-fiction fan and caring trigonometry instructor.
“He was one of those teachers that really looked out for students,” Miller said. “He was that teacher who made sure everyone had a stable mindset.”
Though students who die by suicide has garnered much media attention in recent years, suicide is much less frequent among youth than it is among older people, said Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The national suicide rate is highest in middle age, particularly among white men, she said. The organization wants to reduce suicide rates by 20 percent by 2025. Part of its effort is focused on training primary care and emergency department health-care providers to identify risk factors and make appropriate interventions to reduce the rate among middle-aged adults.
Harkavy-Friedman advised looking for changes in behavior and mood, such as depression or irritability, and take serious note if someone talks about ending his or her life.
“For each person it’s a different profile of contributors, so you really want to look at what has changed for the person that you know,” she said.
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Alexis Stevens contributed to this report