Former Teacher Guns Down Fla. Superintendent

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The "fabulous'' career of a nationally honored superintendent ended violently last week when James A. Adams, the head of the Lee County, Fla., schools, was shot to death in his Fort Myers office. He was 57.

Police identified the assailant as Larry Ray Shelton, 48, a former special-education teacher in the district.

Mr. Shelton, who stopped firing once during the shooting to reload his .38-caliber revolver, fired six shots, five of which hit Mr. Adams, wounding him in the chest and head, witnesses said. He then left the scene and fatally shot himself.

The 3 P.M. shooting took place in front of two secretaries in Mr. Adams's third-floor office. No one else was injured.

According to Bobbie D'Alessandro, the assistant to the superintendent, Mr. Shelton appeared "very agitated'' and asked to see Mr. Adams without an appointment. Ms. D'Alessandro, who was acting superintendent last week, said Mr. Shelton gave a false name and said he was a teacher from Indiana.

Mr. Adams was shot as he greeted the man, she said.

Mr. Shelton had resigned in October from his teaching job at Cypress Lake Middle School in Fort Myers, citing stress. He had taught in the school district since 1990.

Police said he had previously attempted suicide.

A note Mr. Shelton left with a girlfriend before killing himself did not reveal a motive for the Feb. 7 shooting, Ms. D'Alessandro said.

Donna Hansen, the Fort Myers police chief, called Mr. Shelton "a suicidal individual who was frustrated with the school system and apparently fixated on Dr. Adams.''

'A Big Teddy Bear'

This was the second murder of a school superintendent by a teacher in as many months. In December, a high school teacher in Chelsea, Mich., fatally shot his superintendent and wounded a principal and another teacher. (See Education Week, Jan. 12, 1994.)

Mr. Adams, who had been superintendent in the 47,000-student Lee County schools since 1990, had earned kudos for helping create and implement a desegregation plan as well as for insuring that nearly every district employee and student had access to a computer.

"What he has done will impact more children than anything that had been done in the last 50 years'' in Lee County, said James W. Browder, a district administrator and former high school principal.

Before coming to Fort Myers, Mr. Adams spent eight years as the superintendent in Indianapolis. He was the Indiana superintendent of the year in 1989.

Shirl E. Gilbert 2nd, the current Indianapolis superintendent who was recruited by Mr. Adams, remembered his former boss as someone who worked hard, played hard, cared deeply about children, and had a "legendary temper.''

But echoing the comments of others, Mr. Gilbert also said that, underneath a gruff exterior, Mr. Adams was "just a big old teddy bear who just wanted to do everything he could to make the quality of life for the community and the kids better.''

"We are all still in shock [over] a tragic end to an absolutely fabulous career,'' Mr. Gilbert said.

Mr. Adams, a Kentucky native, also served as superintendent in Winston-Salem, N.C., Grosse Pointe, Mich., and Montclair, N.J.

Three times, most recently last year, the magazine Executive Educator had named Mr. Adams one of the top 100 school executives.

Mr. Adams's murder has touched off security concerns among many.

District officials in Lee County plan to beef up security, as do other public and private offices in Fort Myers, Police Chief Hansen said. There was no security checkpoint in the building where the shooting occurred.

In Indianapolis, Mr. Gilbert said the shooting prompted his district to put a security guard in the lobby of the administration building for the first time.

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