The Clay Shrout killings, 20 years later

20 years later: Principal, student remember Clay Shrout killings
Published: May. 13, 2014 at 2:35 AM EDT
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NORTHERN KENTUCKY (FOX19) - "I teach geometry.  Been lucky enough to teach everything in math from algebra 1 to calculus.  I have been a band director.  So those are the things that are my legacy. Not 20 years ago one day," said former Ryle High School Assistant Principal Steve Sorrell.

But it is because of one day twenty years ago, among thousands of others in Sorrell's career as an educator, that he received a letter commending his heroism from Former President Bill Clinton.

That letter reads in part, "Dear Stephen, I recently learned about your act of heroism.  I wanted to commend you for your selflessness."

It was May 25th, 1994.  Sorrell was in his first year as an assistant principal.  It was a Thursday morning.

John Hoh, of Northern Kentucky, remembers it well.  He was a student at the time sitting in his trigonometry class.  He recalls a fellow student, Clay Shrout, coming in and telling the teacher someone in the school had a gun.

"He pulled the gun out of his back and said it's me.  He got out the gun and showed it to everybody," Hoh recalled.

Hoh had known Shrout for years, well enough to know that Shrout could be capable of anything.

"The gun he had was a very small gun.  He wouldn't have been able to shoot a lot of people but do you really want to be one of those people?" said Hoh.

And then Shrout shocked the class with what he said next.

"He said I've just had a very bad day.  I just killed my parents," Hoh said.

The class, and entire Tri-state later learned Shrout had not only killed his parents in their home that morning, but also his two younger sisters.

And as those petrified students wondered what Shrout would do next, a student was able to get a message to Sorrell.  Sorrell called police and then walked down the hall directly to that classroom.

"It's a very simple concept.  There were 24 students and a teacher in there.  I wanted to make sure all were safe.  I was going to do whatever I had to do make sure that happened," Sorrell said.

He made it to the door.

"I knew I could get to the desk quickly and if he raised the gun it was going to be my stomach, wasn't going anywhere else. I hoped that wouldn't happen, but I had consciously made that decision already," Sorrell said.

Sorrell told Shrout to let the students go and take him hostage instead.

John Hoh gets emotional at that memory. "He's probably the bravest man I've ever met.  To put himself in that position," Hoh said.

The students escaped and Sorrell found himself face to face with a murdered.

"I went down with the idea of getting the flesh of my hand between the trigger and the gun so it wouldn't go off and as soon as I got my hand on the gun he released it," said Sorrell."I took the gun turned around and saw the officer at the door."

Shrout surrendered.  And it was only after officers discovered the grisly scene at Shrout's home that those who'd been in the classroom he'd held hostage realized the outcome could have been far different.

"It could have been very easy to go the other way and say I'm going to die and take everyone with me," Hoh said.

Shrout was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 25 years.  He has spent the past 20 years behind bars at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville as inmate number 119453.

"Haven't had much conversation with him.  I have received a letter from him saying that he was sorry that he didn't mean to do anything," Sorrell said.

What Clay Shrout did do was begin a conversation in the Tri-State about safety in schools which continues 20 years later.

"We learn every time we revisit this.  It opens our eyes to the possibility it can happen again," said Tom Scheben of the Boone County Sheriff's Office.

Since then, Boone County became the first school in Kentucky to add resource officers in every high school and middle school.

Also, administrators, teachers and students go through extensive training for active shooter situations.

But Hoh, a parent now himself, fears not enough is being done to keep schools safe.  He supports a controversial program recently debated in Boone County which would allow selected teachers to be trained to carry a gun in school.

"Give them the option to protect them and if that's the route to go let them make that choice," Hoh said.

It's a choice that Sorrell said he wouldn't make, even after facing an armed student in a classroom.

Both men who were in that classroom on that day 20 years ago will never forget it.

"I honestly believe it could happen at any time.  anywhere.  So yes, I am prepared for it to happen again," said Sorrell.

Related: Are schools safer two decades after Clay Shrout incident?

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