Witness recalls gun going off just feet from him at Augusta High graduation

A witness recalls what happened after a gun went off just feet from him at the Augusta High School graduation on Sunday. (May 15, 2016)
A witness recalls what happened after a gun went off just feet from him at the Augusta High School graduation on Sunday. (May 15, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

When a man accidentally fired a handgun tucked into his sock in a crowded stadium at the beginning of the Augusta High School graduation Sunday, John Lyon said he heard the “pop.”

Lyon, 54, of Wichita said he was standing 2 to 3 feet in front of the man who shot himself in the foot. In an interview Thursday, Lyon recalled turning around to look at the source of the gunshot and blurting out, “Really?”

The man who shot himself had been leaning against a fence, on concrete, in back of the main crowd seated in bleachers. The man looked clearly surprised that the gun had fired, Lyon recalled.

The man wore clean, crisp jeans and glanced down at his leg. He shook his foot. Blood dripped from the bottom of his cowboy boot.

Lyon didn’t see the gun. The man spoke briefly to a woman next to him – and she glared at him.

Then the man walked away – nonchalantly, it seemed to Lyon. Lyon assumed that the man was going to a bathroom to check his wound but didn’t see him return. The woman followed the man as he ambled off. He left a thinning trail of blood.

Augusta police chief Tyler Brewer discusses shootings at Augusta High School graduation ceremony. (Video by Beccy Tanner)

On Sunday, Augusta police gave this account:

A 37-year-old man concealed a .380-caliber handgun in his sock as he went into Hillier Stadium. The gun, in his sock, became uncomfortable. As he tried to adjust his sock, the gun fired, hitting him in the foot.

The bullet ricocheted about 50 feet and hit a 28-year-old woman in her leg as she sat under the media box. Police called it an accidental shooting but noted that the stadium entrance has a “no-gun” sign.

Butler County Attorney Darrin Devinney said Thursday that he is waiting on the investigation to be completed before deciding whether to file charges.

Under changes made by Kansas legislators, people can carry concealed weapons, no permit required, in most public places.

On Thursday, Lyon recalled that the gun fired around 2 p.m., at the beginning of the ceremonies. The graduates had yet to take their seats.

Lyon said he was there to see his best friend’s daughter graduate, arrived late and had to stand in a spot near the fence behind the main crowd.

At first after the gunshot, he said, “Nobody really knew what was going on.” Someone said they thought it was firecracker.

Police said that not many people in the crowd, estimated to number 500 to 1,000, heard the shot.

Lyon saw a man calling on a cellphone and saying that someone had fired a gun. But people seemed calm.

Lyon didn’t realize the bullet had ricocheted, striking the woman, until an ambulance arrived.

In the moments after hearing the shot and realizing what had happened, Lyon recalled thinking to himself: “Jesus, dude, you’re at a graduation,” so why bring a gun?

Lyon, who is listed as a witness in a police report about the incident, told an officer that he was near the gun when it discharged, and the officer gave him a form to fill out.

Lyon said he openly carries a .45-caliber handgun in a holster and only when he rides his prized motorcycle.

For safety, he said, he never keeps a round in the chamber.

“Never have it locked and loaded and ready to go.”

He wasn’t armed when he was at the graduation, he said.

His experience at the stadium is “something that everybody needs to consider when they are carrying a gun,” Lyon said.

“Accidents will happen … though they shouldn’t happen that way.”

The man who shot himself in the foot “was real lucky that (ricocheting) bullet hit the lady in the leg” and not others in the back, causing a more serious injury, Lyon said.

“That’s the thing about a bullet: You can never predict where it’s going to go.”

Contributing: Beccy Tanner and Dion Lefler of The Eagle

Tim Potter: 316-268-6684, @terporter

Related stories from Wichita Eagle