Howard teen seized on gun count

Hammond High student brought a semiautomatic weapon to school, police say

June 16, 2007|By Melissa Harris and John-John Williams IV | Melissa Harris and John-John Williams IV,sun reporters

Acting on a tip from two students, a Howard County police officer yesterday arrested a 15-year-old freshman carrying a semiautomatic handgun in his waistband at Hammond High School in Columbia.

Two students reported to a teacher that they had overheard their classmate talking about having a gun. The teacher relayed the students' suspicions about 10 a.m. to the police officer at the school.

The officer removed the student from class and, during a search, found an unloaded gun in his waistband and an ammunition clip filled with nine or 10 rounds in his pants pocket, said Pfc. Jennifer Reidy, a spokeswoman for the department. Police were trying to determine why the student brought the gun to school.

"He may have been in a feud with one person or a group, and they may have threatened him," she said.

The gun belonged to the student's parents, who had the weapon locked in a gun safe, police said.

"He managed to break into the gun safe," said Pfc. Jamie Myers, a spokesman for the department. "The parents are not facing charges. They actually did their part by locking the gun safe."

Police have charged the teenager with possession of a concealed deadly weapon and possession of a handgun on school property.

The youth appeared yesterday afternoon in Howard County juvenile court. A judge committed him to the Alfred D. Noyes Children's Center, a regional detention facility in Rockville.

"We had responsible students who came forward immediately and reported this to an adult," said Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for the school district. "The teacher also acted quickly."

Neither the police nor the school system would release the name of the student because he is a juvenile. Caplan said that school officials are taking disciplinary action against the freshman.

"People don't have to worry about him coming back," she said.

Principal Sterlind S. Burke Sr. told students about the situation at the end of the school day in an announcement over the public address system.

"A Hammond student made an unconscionable, unsafe decision to bring a gun to our school," he said. "I am pleased to report that the situation was handled in an extremely professional and swift manner by all involved, minimizing any additional danger." Burke gave copies of his remarks to reporters.

Fellow freshman Nathan Burner said he was at his locker when officers searched the student in the hallway and pulled the gun from his waistband. Burner said he immediately turned around and went back to class.

"When I saw the trigger and everything, I couldn't believe it. It was kind of weird," he said.

The principal said some students told him they thought the situation was properly handled. But Yemi Awoyera, a sophomore, said, "Reflecting back on it, I would have had the school on lockdown, and we weren't.

"I think I was more shaken up than anything," she said. "Just the fact that someone would bring a gun to school."

This has been a turbulent school year in Howard County, one of the state's top-ranked systems, where classes are scheduled to end for the summer Wednesday.

In November, referees called the Centennial-Oakland Mills high school football game in the third quarter rather than risk a brawl among fans and players.

In January, the first of three teachers in less than a two-month period was arrested on a charge of having inappropriate sexual contact with students.

Also in January, an 18-year-old male was beaten to death with an aluminum baseball bat during a late-night melee involving dozens of youths on a field at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City. Another 18-year-old male was charged with murder.

On May 16, a 62-year-old guidance counselor at Howard High School in Ellicott City was arrested and charged with having crack cocaine in his vehicle on the school parking lot.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Rona Marech contributed to this article.

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