Balto. Co. officials promise safety upgrades after second gun incident

None injured at Stemmers Run Middle, where student pulled gun on teacher, classmates

  • School Superintendent Dallas Dance said the school system will launch a new Office of Safety and Security after the second gun incident in two weeks.
School Superintendent Dallas Dance said the school system… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
September 11, 2012|By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County officials promised new safety measures Tuesday to prevent violence in public schools — including hand-held metal detectors, an increased police presence and a new administrative security office — after a teacher wrestled a gun from an eighth-grader two weeks after a shooting at a nearby high school.

The changes, to take effect in the coming weeks, will be folded into a larger "systemic look at what steps the school system can take" to prevent further acts of violence, said County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who pledged that the county will "allocate resources in whatever capacity" necessary. Officials also called on parents and guardians to do a better job of securing weapons at home.

Shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday, a 13-year-old boy stood at the end of his first-period class at Stemmers Run Middle School in Essex and pulled a small, loaded handgun — about the size of a cellphone — from his pocket, county police said. The eighth-grader then threatened his teacher, more than two dozen other students in the classroom and himself before his female teacher "grappled" with him and forced him to drop the weapon as other students fled the room, police said.

Later Tuesday, the boy's grandfather, Norman James Gatewood, 70, of the 300 block of Stillwater Road in Essex was served a criminal summons charging him with failing to secure the .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun from the boy. A woman at his home said he was unavailable for comment.

The classroom incident, in which no one was injured, comes about two weeks after 17-year-old Daniel Borowy was shot by a fellow student in the cafeteria of Perry Hall High School on the first day of school. A male guidance counselor at the school, Jesse Wasmer, intervened, grabbing the student, Robert Gladden Jr., 15, and wrestling him to the ground, police said.

After the Perry Hall incident, school officials facing a barrage of questions from parents at a community forum were noncommittal about specific changes they planned to implement, promising only that they were reviewing the situation and the system's safety protocols.

But with Tuesday's incident further amplifying concerns, officials detailed what they called "preliminary steps" in their larger review process.

Kamenetz said he had authorized an increased police presence throughout the school system. Police Chief Jim Johnson said school resource officers will soon be issued hand-held wands for detecting metal objects when suspicions are raised or potentially dangerous situations arise. And schools Superintendent Dallas Dance said the school system will launch a new Office of Safety and Security.

An entirely revised crisis plan for the system will also be "rolled out very soon," addressing a variety of potential school emergencies, Dance said.

The county said in a news release that it has begun the process of buying the hand-held wands and "hopes to have them in place within the next few weeks."

In recent years, incidents involving guns in county schools have been rare, though not unheard of.

Two years ago, two students at Perry Hall High were charged as adults with possession of a firearm after an unloaded gun was found in one student's book bag. In the 2008-2009 school year, there was a gun-related incident at Stemmers Run Middle, the details of which were not immediately available.

Since the 2005-2006 school year, there have also been gun-related incidents at Joppa View Elementary, Essex Elementary, Milford Mill Academy, Catonsville High School and Rosedale Center. Last year there were no incidents. By comparison, Baltimore City public schools reported 10 gun-related incidents last year.

Dance, in his first year on the job, said the system's schools are safe places for students, but the recent incidents have "ratcheted up" efforts to revise the system's crisis plan that he began in his first week.

Abby Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said she approved of the initial measures. She said she does not believe forcing all students through metal detectors at the start of each day, which has been called for by some parents, is necessary or practical.

Most students bring cellphones and other hand-held devices to school and getting them all through metal detectors would disrupt class schedules, she said. "The time element is unbelievable," she said.

Beytin also echoed other officials by calling on parents to do more to limit students' access to weapons and to watch for warning signs that their children are upset or troubled.

Johnson said the metal-detecting wands will be "used only when a police officer has reasonable suspicions" that a crime is likely to occur, and it remained unclear late Tuesday whether the Stemmers Run student who brandished the gun — which had five bullets in the magazine and one in the chamber — would have landed on the radar of such officers.

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