Loaded handgun found in backpack of student, 8, who threatened classmate

March 06, 2010|By Justin Fenton | justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Authorities were trying to determine Friday how an 8-year-old boy obtained a loaded handgun that was found in his backpack by school police after he made threats toward a classmate.

The third-grader at Sharp-Leadenhall Elementary School, a small Baltimore City school for special-needs children, was arrested Thursday afternoon and charged as a juvenile with handgun possession. School officials said the boy was "acting suspiciously" and staff began closely monitoring his behavior, which led to a search of his backpack and the discovery of a .380-caliber handgun.

A law enforcement source with knowledge of the incident said the boy was overheard making a threat to another student and walked over to his locker. A staff member followed him and saw the boy take out his backpack, at which point the employee observed the loaded gun, the source said.

The boy denied knowledge of the weapon, according to two sources.

He was arrested that day and placed on community detention with the Department of Juvenile Services, according to school officials and three sources with knowledge of the case. At a juvenile court hearing Friday, a judge ordered that he remain on community detention, the sources said.

School officials said school and city police were conducting an investigation to determine the gun's owner and where the gun came from originally. They said charges could be filed against others who might have contributed to the student coming into possession of the gun.

"Our focus continues to be maintaining safe and supportive environments for our students," said Jonathan T. Brice, director of student support for Baltimore City's public schools. "But the broader issue is really an adult issue, about children having access to weapons."

The Department of Social Services has begun an inquiry, and sources said the agency had an "extensive" history with the family.

Sources said the boy lives in North Baltimore and was bused to Sharp-Leadenhall in South Baltimore, between Federal Hill and M&T Bank Stadium. The school is located along a small strip of industrial space and offices, adjacent to a shelter for men who are homeless or have substance abuse problems.

In the 2008-2009 school year, the school had an enrollment of only 66 students.

Brice said the school is not equipped with metal detectors. Edie House, a school spokeswoman, said 43 schools have metal detectors and 64 schools have hand wands to scan students for weapons, which are placed in schools at the request of the principal and the school community.

House said Friday was "as normal as it could be, under the circumstances."

Brice said the school's principal, James Linde, met with faculty members before classes started, and a letter was sent out to all students' homes to inform them of the situation.

The incident was first reported by the Investigative Voice Web site, and school officials did not release a statement until midday Friday. Parents interviewed by television stations said they had not heard about the discovery of the gun and the student's arrest, and some said they were reconsidering whether the school was a safe place for their children.

"I think it's very important to allow the process to work, and that we're able to determine the appropriate consequence and support for this young person, so that this incident does not become the sum total of their experience in school," Brice said. "Hopefully, this is merely one incident in what will become a very successful academic career."

At the nearby Solo Gibbs Recreation Center, volunteer Ashley M. Cichowicz, 31, watched as children played and joked. She said the center averages about 30 kids per day, offering arts, crafts and the ability to explore on a computer.

Last year, the center had a retired police officer talk to the children about gun safety. He told them not to pick up a gun, and to alert an adult if they see one. One little girl said her father had been killed in gun violence.

"It's really unbelievable, but these kids have access to handguns," said Cichowicz, a Sykesville native who now lives in the neighborhood. "I think it's tragic that this city is so violent and guns are so prevalent that a child could get their hands on one. Thankfully, tragedy was averted, this time."

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