Updated: Towne Point ES custodian claims self defense in fatal shooting

DOVER – A Capital School District custodian was identified as the alleged shooter in the Tuesday night death of a man on the grounds of Towne Point Elementary School, Dover Police said this morning.

Rodney West, 53, was taken into custody without incident by the U.S. Marshal’s in Montgomery County, Maryland early Thursday morning and is currently awaiting extradition to Delaware, spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said. Authorities said a weapon was recovered during the investigation.

According to defense attorney Joe Hurley, Mr. West was allegedly confronted after leaving work Tuesday and acted in self defense. He will plead not guilty to any charges against him and is prepared to give a statement to Dover Police, Mr. Hurley said. Mr. West was in Delaware late Thursday afternoon, according to his attorney.

Mr. West “panicked” in the aftermath of the confrontation, Mr. Hurley said, and left the area. He later contacted the attorney and was prepared to turn himself in voluntarily before being taken into custody, Mr. Hurley said.

Mr. West carried a firearm because he feared for his safety after allegedly being threatened and harassed for the past several weeks, Mr. Hurley said. The attorney said text messages from phones would support his claims.

Dover area resident Derrick Combs, 39, was found dead and with multiple gunshot wounds by arriving officers at approximately 9:58 p.m. Tuesday. No students or teachers were in school at 629 Buckson Drive at the time and the incident was not considered by police to be a random act.

According to police, Mr. Combs and Mr. West were aware of each other before the alleged incident. When announcing the incident Wednesday, Capital School District categorized it as “domestic” related. Police believe only the two men were in the vicinity at the time.

Mr. Combs’ next of kin was notified, police said.

Pending charges include first-degree murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and possession of a firearm in a safe school zone. The investigation is ongoing, police said. No timetable was immediately set on extradition plans, police said.

Citing the ongoing investigation, police would not discuss a possible motive in the case.

On Thursday morning, Capital School District released a statement through spokeswoman Candace McCarthy that read:
“Rodney West was part of the custodial staff at Towne Point. We are saddened that the activity outside of the school between adults was brought on to our doorstep. We will be here to support our families, students and staff. We grieve for the unnecessary loss of life.”

Towne Point ES reopened Thursday morning after being closed Wednesday. While no existing threat was believed to be present, Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton said the decision was made “in the spirit of upmost caution.” School officials an added police presence would be at the school, along with school monitors.

The school district issued a statement Wednesday night in anticipation of Towne Point’s reopening that included, in part:
“As you know, Towne Point Elementary was closed today as part of a response to a shooting that took place on the grounds late Tuesday evening. The Dover Police continue to investigate, and at this time they continue to believe this incident is an isolated occurrence because of certain factors which cannot be released due to the nature of the investigation at this time. There is currently a person of interest that has been identified and is being sought by the police …

“Teachers were at work today and have prepared for students to come with different levels of anxiety. While the incident will be acknowledged in each class, students who appear to be struggling emotionally or have questions will be allowed to speak with school and mental health counselors. Extra counselors and social workers will be on hand to deal with issues that may arise with children or adults as they deal with a potentially traumatic situation. In addition, one can find resources on the Towne Point Website provided by the office of Student Services. This information will also go home with students (Thursday).

“As always, our children’s safety is our primary concern. We understand that this has caused anxiety throughout our Towne Point School Community and hope that we can continue our school year in a positive way.”

 

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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