Family of teenage girl shot at Md. high school files lawsuit against school board

The parents of Maryland teenager Jaelynn Willey, who was shot inside Great Mills High School two years ago, have filed a lawsuit against the St. Mary’s County School Board.

The 16-year-old was shot on March 20, 2018 in a school hallway. She was taken off life support and died three days later.

The shooter was another student, 17-year-old Austin Rollins, who had dated Willey starting in 2017. According to the lawsuit, the relationship soured as Rollins began to harass Willey.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed by her parents, Daniel and Melissa Willey, alleged that school personnel were aware that Rollins was harassing their daughter and that he was physically abusive to her — even grabbing, pushing and yelling at her directly outside of classrooms during school hours on a repeated basis.

“This lawsuit was filed by the parents of Jaelynn Willey because our most precious resources — our children — should be able to go to school every day with parents knowing they will return home safe,” Lauren Geisser, a lawyer for the Willey family said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

It stated the school system was negligent and should have done more to provide for Willey’s safety and the safety of other students at the school. Another student was wounded in the leg by a round from Rollins’ gun.

According to court documents, Willey’s parents made school officials aware of Rollins’ behavior before their daughter was killed.

The allegations stated that in the months leading up to the shooting, Willey’s parents “warned the school by way of directly advising the school’s swim coach that they were concerned about their daughter’s well-being, specifically as it related to Rollins,” but that the school system took no action. Willey, who was in 10th grade, was a member of the Great Mills High School swim team.

The lawsuit also said on Feb. 20, 2018, a month before Willey was shot, there was a threat of a shooter at the school, and the school system added security for only that day.

And less than 24 hours before the shooting that killed Willey, a threat of mass violence was made. The Willeys’ lawsuit said that the school had surveillance cameras and metal detecting wands it did not use.

“In this matter, there were warning signs the school chose to ignore and the family seeks to hold the school responsible for this failure on behalf of their daughter,” Geisser said.

Lawyers for the Willeys said after Rollins shot Willey, he was able to walk a round the school with the gun showing.

Rollins shot and killed himself at the school when he was confronted by a St. Mary’s County sheriff’s deputy assigned as a school resources officer.

The Willeys are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

“Great Mills did nothing” to prevent Willey’s death, the lawsuit said.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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