Pupil, 7, found with guns

Randallstown school calm

First-grader thought that weapons were toys, county police say

April 02, 2008|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN REPORTER

The guns came from his uncle's house. One tumbled from the boy's pocket and onto the classroom floor. The other, police said, was found in his locker after a teacher took the child to the principal's office.

The boy is 7 years old and in first grade at Randallstown Elementary School.

He was suspended and faces possible expulsion. But police said he will not be charged with any crime, because there is no reason to believe he intended to use the weapons - even though both were loaded, with bullets in the chamber, ready to fire.

"It's a toy to him," said Cpl. Michael Hill, a Baltimore County police spokesman. "This is a first-grader, a 7-year-old. He doesn't know the repercussions of this or anything."

Randallstown Elementary Principal Marcel I. Hall informed parents of the discovery in an automated phone message to their homes Monday afternoon.

"I assured them that it was an isolated incident, that the weapons were confiscated by police and that there was no threat to our school," Hall said yesterday. "Some parents had gotten the message and still wanted to talk to me. I've been the principal here for 12 years. They trust me and just wanted to hear my voice."

She said most of the school's 405 children had no idea that anything unusual had happened.

Police said the youngster told investigators that he found the weapons during a spring break visit to his uncle's house in Baltimore last week and had no intention of using them at school.

Hall said a teacher brought the child to her office about 9:20 a.m. Monday, shortly after the morning announcements.

Officers who went to the school retrieved the gun that fell out in the classroom - a 9 mm Kahr pistol. They searched the boy's locker and found a .40-caliber Glock handgun.

"They were in his book bag and he completely forgot about them. He didn't realize it until he got to school," Hill said yesterday. "He thought they were toys anyway. He put one in his pocket and went to class."

Baltimore County police said the boy - who lives with his mother - was sent home from school with her after being questioned Monday.

Parents picking up their children at the school on Liberty Road yesterday afternoon expressed concern that a child so young would have access to deadly weapons but were glad that police and school administrators handled the matter as quickly as they did.

"I'm just glad they got it before he could take it out and play with it," said Ralph McNeill Sr., whose 10-year-old son attends Randallstown Elementary. "I think Ms. Hall did a good job of getting the word out to parents that everything was under control. She didn't scare anybody or anything."

Sylvester Graham, whose 6-year-old son and 9-year-old stepdaughter attend Randallstown Elementary, said he was shocked when he received the principal's phone message Monday night.

"I was surprised that a first-grader would do something like that," he said. "It makes it even more dangerous."

Like other parents interviewed outside the school yesterday afternoon, Graham said he was most interested in how the boy got access to two handguns - and what might happen to the adults whose lax supervision resulted in him bringing the weapons to school.

"You should always check your kids' book bags," he said.

Another parent, Tarik Dickens, whose son also attends first grade at Randallstown, said that such incidents are practically unavoidable.

"I don't know what you can do about it. I don't know how you stop it," he said. "No matter where you put your kid in school, it seems like it's bound to happen."

Kenneth S. Trump, who owns a school safety consulting firm in Cleveland that does work with school systems across the country, said there have been more nonfatal gun incidents at schools this year.

"There seems to be an uptick this year generally in firearms- related incidents, especially in large urban districts, that I haven't seen in recent years," he said.

Instances of elementary school children bringing guns to school remain the most unusual and their reasons for bringing the weapons to school are usually the most benign, Trump said.

"I don't want to say it's show-and-tell, because I don't want to downplay it. But it's usually a situation where they want to show it to someone, not that they plan to hurt someone or shoot someone," he said. "Obviously, that doesn't minimize the seriousness. To the contrary, that can be equally or more dangerous - 7-year-olds showing it, handling it, passing it off to other kids."

In October 2006, an 8-year-old in Baltimore brought a loaded revolver to his third-grade classroom, where another 8-year-old fired it. The gun went off inside a desk and the bullet did not hit anyone.

Baltimore County police said they had decided by yesterday afternoon not to charge the Randallstown youngster with a crime.

"We don't see any criminal behavior on the part of the child," said Bill Toohey, a police spokesman. "Why do 7-year-olds do anything?"

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