Current Events

Revisiting The Carolyn Gudger Sullivan Central High Incident

Revisiting The Carolyn Gudger Sullivan Central High Incident

A meme which has circulated for over two years claims that a school shooting was thwarted by an armed guard, but the story was under-reported or suppressed by the mainstream media.

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The story is true, but it was not suppressed by local media. 

The incident occurred on August 30, 2010 in Blountville, Tennessee. As reported on

Thomas Richard Cowan loaded 13 bullets into two handguns, left his German shepherd chained to the fence and drove eight miles from his home in Kingsport to Sullivan Central High School. Whatever his mission, it was the 62-year-old Vietnam veteran’s final drive.

For about an hour, Cowan’s armed invasion spread panic throughout the school before a burst of officers’ gunfire brought him down. No others were injured.

The gunman confronted Principal Melanie Riden:

Cowan trained a .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol at Riden’s face, said Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson. Carolyn Gudger, the school resource officer, drew her gun, then shielded the principal’s body with her own.

The standoff lasted until police backup arrived. The gunman was then shot dead just outside of a library full of teenagers.


There has been some confusion as to when this incident occurred because the graphic above circulated heavily in early 2013, presumably in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. Also, the original TriCities story has two dates on it: August 31, 2010 and December 24, 2012, the latter being a revision date.

The 2013 Graphic

The graphic which first appeared in early 2013 claimed that the mainstream media “ignored”  and “covered this up,” which is not entirely accurate. It was a local story covered at the time by the media in the area. Local news accounts of the incident would not be so easily found had there been a cover-up. Local news accounts of a gunman being killed by police don’t always make national news. Sometimes stories such as this and the more recent San Antonio shooting aren’t given more coverage, which is unfortunate as the heroism of armed guards in both cases certainly prevented these incidents from escalating to the likes of the Aurora Colorado theater shooting or the Sandy Hook tragedy. News is often driven by tragedy, and in this case a tragedy was averted by an armed guard.

Below is a meme regarding this incident.

2014 Graphic

A less wordy version of the graphic above began circulating around the end of 2013 and through mid-2014. This graphic reads, “This is Carolyn Gudger she is a Hero! She stopped a gunman at Sullivan Central High School in Tennessee. You haven’t heard about her because no children were killed only the gunman. Wake up my friends you being brain washed by the lame stream media.”



Carolyn Gudger was interviewed about the incident and gave an account in her own words. You can watch the video below.

Bottom Line

The account of Carolyn Gudger’s heroism is true, although claims that the story was covered up are unfounded. Gudger’s story was covered by local press at the time, although it was not widely covered by national media.

Updated July 11, 2015
Originally published January 2013

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