BY CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
An 11-year-old student at Southern Elementary School is being charged with bringing a gun to school, though authorities believe he had no intention to do anyone harm.
The student — who, as a juvenile, was not named by official sources — apparently brought the compact pistol, a .25 model, to school by accident Monday morning.
Sonya Wilds, assistant superintendent of Pulaski County Schools, said that the student was a parent drop-off and did not ride the bus. After he arrived, he realized the gun was in his pocket after apparently carrying it in that pair of pants the night before.
“When he got to school, before school started, he told his teacher he had it,” said Wilds. “That was the right thing for him to do. He didn’t express any disgruntlement with any student or staff.”
Wilds said that both the student and his father stated that the suspect had the gun in the pocket the previous day, having allegedly used it for recreational sport shooting, and put the same pants on before going to school, apparently not realizing the gun was inside.
Pulaski County Sheriff Todd Wood said that there was a magazine with ammunition rounds inside the gun when it was turned over.
Wood said that the authorities retrieved the weapon from a safe location and it was given to School Resource Office Deputy Scott West. The student was taken to the sheriff’s department to await a court appearance to be held this morning, where Wood expects him to be tried as a juvenile.
Bringing a gun to school is a felony charge, noted Wood, but the ultimate penalties remain unclear due to the unusual nature of the offense.
“For an adult, a Class B felony like this would carry up to a five-year sentence,” said Wood, “but for a juvenile, I would not even care to speculate.”
Wood said the boy’s father, with whom he lives, spoke to the sheriff’s department at length yesterday, and once all the facts of the case are ascertained, authorities will determine if additional charges may be placed against anyone else, such as the father.
Wood said that he told the boy that he “applaud(ed) him for not trying to conceal the gun or hide it, and stay out of trouble.”
However, while not believing the student meant to use the gun violently, “we know accidents happen,” said Wood. “Someone might be looking at the gun who doesn’t know about any type of gun safety, or it could go off accidentally and shoot (the juvenile suspect) himself. There are so many scenarios that could go wrong and pose so many different threats.”
A letter from Keith Patrick, principal at Southern Elementary, was sent home to parents and guardians of students, and stated the following:
“I have the unfortunate task of informing you that a student brought a gun to school before school hours this morning. The student did not ride a bus, but was parent drop off. Upon arriving at school and before school started, he informed his teacher that he had it and the matter was resolved without incident, prior to the start of class. The student did not express any disgruntlement with any student or staff at school.
Regardless of the self-report and seemingly lack of motive on the part of the student, this matter is being handled with the utmost concern, urgency and seriousness that it deserves. The Pulaski County School System will pursue any criminal charges as allowable and the student was removed from school.
This incident was turned over to the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department for full investigation.
I want you to know that acts such as this will not be tolerated and will always be fully prosecuted. We, the staff, strive to do everything in our power to keep your child safe here during the school day.”
Wilds said that despite the apparently innocent circumstances under which the gun was brought on school grounds, the school system still treats the situation with “the utmost concern and seriousness” and will pursue “any criminal charges as allowable.”
Also, the boy has been “removed from school” at this time, said Wilds.
“Regardless if it was a mistake, it was a mistake with serious consequences,” she said. “We want parents to be fully informed and have all the facts before rumors get started. Having a gun on school grounds is non-negotiable.”