KNOXVILLE — An elementary school teacher is accused of shooting and wounding the principal and assistant principal at his school Wednesday about an hour after the children were dismissed because of snow.
Police charged Mark Stephen Foster, 48, of Clinton, with two counts of attempted first-degree murder after the shooting at Inskip Elementary School. The school Web site identifies Foster as a fourth-grade teacher.
A former boss of Foster's said the suspect was taken into custody in the 1990s with weapons near their office after making threatening comments about him to family members.
University of Tennessee Medical Center officials said Principal Elisa Luna was in critical condition and Assistant Principal Amy Brace was in stable condition Wednesday afternoon.
"We're very saddened by this tragedy," Knox County Schools Superintendent James McIntyre Jr. said. "Thankfully there were no students involved." The children had left school early because of snow.
The Web profile for Foster includes a picture and description that says, "I love teaching 4th grade. Every child is a winner."
Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman Rachel Woods said Foster received an apprentice teacher license for grades K-6 in the summer of 2007. An apprentice license is issued when someone first starts teaching, before they have tenure, she said.
Police haven't released a motive for the shooting. McIntyre said the school didn't intend to rehire Foster next term.
Foster was arrested a short distance from the school after his car was stopped at a highway construction roadblock, Police Chief Sterling Owen IV said. He surrendered without incident and police said they recovered a revolver. It wasn't immediately known if he had an attorney.
The suspect's brother, Anthony Foster, said his brother lives about a mile away but the two haven't talked in four years because of "family problems." Anthony Foster declined to describe why he and his brother were estranged. But the Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Anthony Foster tried to get a protective order against his brother last year, writing in the petition that Mark Foster had threatened his family.
A court dismissed the petition in May.
"I am very afraid of what he might do to me or my family. He suffers from mental illness and has been treated for it for several year," the petition says. "I have had to call the sheriff's department several times in the past and he seems to be getting worse."
Previous armed run-in with police
Foster's family was contacted by authorities Wednesday to make sure they were safe after the violence at the school, Anthony Foster said.
Anthony Foster said his brother once had been a machinist at Oak Ridge Tool Engineering and got into a dispute with CEO Terry Mullins, declining to elaborate.
Mullins said in a telephone interview Wednesday that police captured an armed Mark Foster a mile away from their office in the 1990s after his mother warned police about the threatening statements. Mullins said police told him that Foster intended to harm him.
Oak Ridge police did not immediately return a call seeking more information about the incident.
The Inskip administrators had been praised for their work at the elementary school, where Luna had been the principal since 2004 and Brace had been assistant principal since July 2008.
Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, said the Legislature honored the principal in 2007 for her work leading the school off the state's list of schools not meeting the goals of No Child Left Behind program. The school of more than 300 students in grades kindergarten through 5 has met annual goals every year since 2004.
Police said the shooting occurred in the administrative offices of the school shortly before 1 p.m. Although the students had been dismissed, there were several staff members in the building.
Anthony Foster said his brother was not married and did not have children.
He said he is praying for the victims and hopes they recover.
"It's tragic," Anthony Foster said. "My heart goes out to the victims. They need all the prayers they can get."
The Inskip community is a working-class neighborhood dotted with one-story ranch homes in northern Knoxville.
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