UPDATE: Bond $1.3M for Jennings High gunman

Published 1:21 pm Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Bond has been set at $1.3 million for a man who entered Jennings High School early Monday through an open door and threatened employees before firing a gun into the air and fleeing.

Dillion M. Champagne, 37, of Duson, is being held in the Jeff Davis Parish Jail on charges of theft of a motor vehicle, aggravated burglaryfour counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, attempted armed robbery, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, two counts of illegal possession of a stolen firearm, illegal carry and discharge of a weapon, carrying a firearm/weapon on a school campus, three counts of simple criminal damage to property, reckless operation of a vehicle and interfering with emergency communications. He is facing additional charges in connection with the theft of a crawfish truck in Acadia Parish.

Champagne was apprehended shortly after 6 p.m. Monday after a passerby spotted the suspect walking on the Jaenke Bridge, just north of Jennings.

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“A citizen passing by saw him,” Police Chief Danny Semmes said Tuesday. “There just so happened to be two (police) units nearby when they called it in so timing was everything.”

Champagne surrendered without incident, he said.

He is accused of following a custodian into Jennings High School where he threatened employees with a handgun early Monday prior to the start of school. No students were at school at the time.

“This was just something that happened during the cleaning of the school,” Semmes said. “The door was unlocked so the custodian could go in and out. You’ve got to leave the door unlocked so you can go in and out at some point. It’s just one of those freak occurrences that happened.”

The incident sparked a nearly 13 hour manhunt that ended when he was taken into custody.

Champagne indicated he was aware of the ongoing search and had been hiding along Bayou Nezpique and the Mermentau River area off La. 97.

“He indicated he had bedded down for a while, but had spent some time in a gully and it ultimately led up to the river,” Semmes said.

Champagne told police he had been on a methamphetamine binge and had driven to Jennings in a stolen crawfish truck which he abandoned at a truck stop off I-10. He later stole a BMW that was being transported, but abandoned it on the interstate near the school.

“He drove to Jennings and had problems with the first vehicle and stole the second vehicle which was in transport mode, so it wouldn’t go very fast,” Semmes said. “So he just pulled over and went up to the school and did what he did.”

The school was an opportunity for Champagne to steal another vehicle, but was not targeted, Semmes said.

“He just rolled up on the school,” he said. “He didn’t even realize it was a school until he saw the sign and then it was too late.”

Authorities believe Champagne may have been in the building for about 10 minutes and changed his shirt before attempting to steal a vehicle and threatening employees. 

Classes at Jennings High School were canceled and sporting events relocated Monday as law enforcement used drones, K9s and helicopters to search a wooded area northeast of the school and along I-10.

“I just want to thank all the officers involved that came out to help us,” Semmes said. “When you put multiple agencies together like that and you can get 40-50 boots on the ground to accomplish a task, it just goes to show what a little cooperation between departments can do.”

School Superintendent John Hall also thanked everyone who was involved in the search efforts.

“Great team work to all agencies in working together and community effectively,” Hall said.