Pistol goes off in city school

Some call for metal detectors after incident in 3rd-grade class

October 13, 2006|By Sara Neufeld and Annie Linskey | Sara Neufeld and Annie Linskey,Sun reporters

A day after a stabbing in a Northwest Baltimore middle school, an 8-year-old boy in a third-grade classroom at a nearby school discharged a loaded revolver yesterday, prompting some community leaders to call for the installation of metal detectors in city schools.

The city's school police chief said he would support such a preventive measure, even in elementary schools but said the move might be impractical.

Though no one was hurt in yesterday's incident at Grove Park Elementary, the events of the past two days left parents frightened and distraught, and raised questions about whether the city school system is doing enough to keep children safe.

"It is disheartening," said School Police Chief Antonio Williams. "There is no good reason for an 8-year-old to have a gun."

While Baltimore schools do not have metal detectors, other big-city school systems sometimes use them in middle and high schools, said Kenneth Trump, president of a Cleveland-based school safety consulting firm. But he knew of no elementary schools using the devices, and he said they aren't foolproof.

"It's certainly a temptation for a knee-jerk reaction, but there are still many, many ways people can get weapons in," he said.

Yesterday, an 8-year-old boy took a .22-caliber revolver to Grove Park and put it inside his desk, police said. Another boy, also 8, came over to see the gun about 10 a.m. and accidentally pulled the trigger. About 20 children were in the room at the time.

The gun and the bullet, which did not penetrate the desk, were recovered, Williams said. Both boys were taken into custody, but the boy who discharged the gun was released to a parent yesterday afternoon. The boy who took the gun was charged with one count of possessing a handgun and was being processed at the city's Department of Juvenile Services.

The boys' names were not released because they are juveniles.

Officials said they were investigating where the boy got the gun, but the principal sent home a letter imploring parents to check their children's backpacks and pockets before they come to school. The letter said the school will begin conducting periodic checks of backpacks and lockers. Administrators held an assembly to tell children not to take weapons to school.

Questions remained last night about whether the substitute teacher who was supposed to be supervising the third-grade class was in the room when the gun went off. School system spokeswoman Edie House said the teacher was there and recovered the gun, but the father of a child in the room said she was not.

"The teacher was not in the classroom," said Les Moore, whose son was sitting next to the boy with the gun and saw him put it in his desk. "She came in after the shot. She must have been right outside the classroom."

Moore was angry that he learned about what happened from reporters when he came to pick up his son at the end of the school day and that police had interviewed his son without his knowledge.

"I feel like we should have been notified immediately," he said. "Especially the [parents of the] children who were in the classroom." He said he would want to be at his son's side after such a traumatic event.

Williams said state law allows police to interview children at a school without parental permission in an emergency, as long as they are not being questioned as criminal suspects.

Other parents were upset that school did not dismiss early.

"Why isn't school out?" asked Suyen Hinds, who was picking up her children. "Absolutely unbelievable. Every morning you send your children out and you pray."

A handful of parents who had learned of the incident before school dismissed at 2:30 p.m. rushed over to get their children.

House said the boy who took the gun would likely be placed on long-term suspension. She said taking a gun to school is normally cause for expulsion, but the decision is up to schools Chief Executive Officer Charlene Cooper Boston.

Older students who are expelled are often placed in alternative schools, but the city doesn't have an alternative school for such young children. House said home-schooling could be an option.

News of the shooting came as a shock at Grove Park, a red brick school in a neighborhood off West Northern Parkway, in the 5500 block of Kennison Avenue. The school, which enrolls about 340 pupils in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, has seen its test scores rise steadily in recent years. This spring, 85 percent of fourth-graders passed the state reading test, compared with 65 percent citywide.

Parents spoke highly of the education Grove Park provides, and officials say it has had no previous incidents of significant violence.

"We're very confident it is an isolated event," Williams said.

On Wednesday, a 13-year-old girl at Pimlico Middle School - a mile and a half from Grove Park - was arrested and charged with stabbing a 14-year-old classmate in the arm with a 10-inch kitchen knife.

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