DIXON, Ill. — "What if?"
That question was the theme during the sentencing hearing of now 23-year-old Matthew Milby, who will serve 30 years for bringing a 9mm handgun and firing it during Dixon High School's graduation practice on May 16, 2018.
Those shots resulted in a shootout with Mark Dallas, the school's resource officer. Dallas stopped Milby from harming anyone physically that day by shooting him twice.
During the altercation, Milby also shot at Andrew McKay, a gym teacher for the district.
The journey to Tuesday's hearing took more than four years. Milby, a former Dixon High School student, had been in the custody of the Illinois Department of Human Services since May 2021 after being deemed unfit for trial twice, once in 2018 and again in 2019, due to mental illness.
During the hearing, nine people gave victim impact statements, but one was given only to Judge John C. Redington to read. The defense also brought in witnesses, including Milby's great-grandmother, aunt and half-sister.
"While there were no physical victims outside the shooter, there were victims, my daughter being one of them," said McKay during the hearing. "At the time, she was 6 years old, in kindergarten, and she had to hear that her dad was shot at. She has been in therapy ever since."
McKay reflected on his increased situational awareness since the shooting. While he isn't scared to go in public, he said that he is always searching for exits when he is in a room.
"I once heard a preacher say that you need to, you can hate the sin, but you've got to love the sinner," McKay said. "So I'm going to, before everybody here including you ... Matthew, I forgive you as a person. I hold, I don't hold any grudge against you as a human. However, I'm not excusing the decisions that led to your actions that day."
Dallas bluntly said, "I am the victim of Matthew Milby."
He compared Milby to other school shooters, calling them all a "disease" that "infect our nation like cancer.
"They kill innocent schoolchildren cause our country still cannot muster the collective this will to do anything about it," said Dallas. "Children will continue to be slaughtered until we care enough to save them. Children will continue to be murdered until we place well-trained school resource officers in every school. Until then, we will remain victims of Milby."
The now-retired Dallas reflected on how his running speed has only gotten slower since May 2018.
"So I am not the reason that the kids at Dixon High School survived," said Dallas. "The students at Dixon High School survived because long before the shooting occurred, our community possessed the wisdom and the collective will to do something about it. Our police department had grown weary of the countless massacres unfolding throughout our country."
Dallas called for more SRO's to be in schools.
"We need to ask ourselves some hard questions," Dallas said. "What separated Dixon High School from Stoneman Douglas High School? What made a difference between the numbers of attendance at the elementary school graduation ceremony and Uvalde, Texas and the number of attendance at the Dixon High School graduation ceremony? Why did so many die there while so many lived here? The evil is precisely the same. There was no less evil holding the gun and Dixon than there was holding the guns in bloody school massacres cross our country."
Dixon Principal Jared Shaner, who was the athletic director in 2018, said he felt fear that day, but also anger.
"These feelings were intensified as I thought of and received a text message from my daughter, who was locked in a classroom. Scared to death. Less than 200 feet away," said Shaner. "'What ifs' continually played in my head. What if Coach McKay hadn't gone to get ice that morning? What if Officer Dallas wasn't sitting in my office at that time? What could have been different if things would have been 10 seconds earlier or 10 seconds later? These feelings, thoughts and emotions certainly consumed me on that day and the days that followed."
Derek Humphrey, a Dixon High School class of 2018 student, asked the judge to issue a longer sentencing on behalf of that class and the Dixon community.
"We've become statistics and victims like so many others across the country due to the evil intent of Matthew Milby," Humphrey said. "It's sickening to think what could have happened."
The defense pushed for Milby to face the minimum sentence of 10 years. His family members on the witness stand said he was a sweet kid, but saw him change and become withdrawn as he got older.
"When me and my brother moved out, that's when it went downhill," his half-sister Danik Wilson said. "I think it's because there was no one for my mom to mentally abuse and physically abuse besides focus all her energy on him."
Judge Redington sentenced Milby to 30 years for both charges of aggravated discharge of a firearm he was facing. Those sentences will be served concurrently and he will only need to serve 85%. Milby also received credit for time served, so he will be eligible for release in around 22 years.
"We would've liked to see the 60 years just given this defendant, given his background, everything that was presented, I think as a public safety standpoint that's what we would've wanted to see," said Lee County State's Attorney Charles Boonstra.
"I'm a little disappointed," Dallas said. "I worry about the students going down their life down the line where they have to worry about this young man getting out of prison when they're in the peaks of their life."
Milby will be sent to the Stateville Correctional Center before being moved to the Department of Corrections decides where he will serve his sentence.
Watch the full sentencing hearing livestream on YouTube:
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