Two ninth-graders at Howard High School were charged Thursday with bringing a loaded gun to school, renewing concerns among parents about systemwide school security.
The discovery marked the second time this school year that a loaded gun has been found in a school.
Just as classes began at Howard at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, a student told her teacher that a 15-year-old girl had brought a gun to school. From there, school officials responded quickly.
Howard went into immediate lockdown, meaning that students were locked in their classrooms and no one was allowed in or out of school.
Authorities said a 15-year-old student stashed the handgun in a 14-year-old girl’s locker. School officials found it wrapped in a shirt and said the gun had not been fired.
Both girls have been charged with bringing a weapon on a school campus. They are being held at the county’s youth detention center, said Chris Floore, a Bibb County school system spokesman.
School officials are not releasing the girls’ names or a possible motive, but they said both students have been suspended from school.
“At this time it is unknown how the (15-year-old) came into possession of the gun or what the intention was in bringing it to school,” principal Karen Yarbrough told parents in a school letter. “Our students are to be commended for coming forward with this information, and their prompt notification allowed us to act immediately.”
A hearing is scheduled today in Bibb County Juvenile Court to determine whether there’s enough probable cause to support the charges against the girls, prosecutor Mike Smith said.
If probable cause exists, the judge also will decide whether the girls will be detained until their arraignment hearings later this month, he said.
During lockdown, several students had their cell phones inside the high school, and they called or sent text messages to their parents.
The revelation prompted some parents to come to the school to pick up their children early.
“It’s shocking to have kids with loaded guns at school,” the high school parent Richard Broughman said while standing outside watching. “You never know what could happen.”
“It sounds like they might have to have metal detectors for kids to walk through to come to school.”
While under lockdown in her food nutrition and wellness class, student Destinee Hurst sent a text message to her mother to come get her.
All her classmates were told was that someone had a gun in the building.
“It was real scary,” she said. “They should have let us know what was going on.”
Carol McCoy also got a text message from her daughter saying, “The teacher left the class. We’re fine.”
She rushed to the school anyway just to be sure.
“You always think it doesn’t happen in your town,” McCoy said.
Superintendent Sharon Patterson, who was at the high school during lockdown, called the situation “extremely distressing.”
“Certainly we are concerned anytime there is a threat to the safety of students,” she said. Crime in a community can find its way into the schools, she said.
“(Parents) need to be very aware of where their students are going and make sure they know who is with them,” she said.
Patterson said she was pleased that a student notified a teacher, enabling school officials to act quickly. “You hope students come forward, and that’s what they did,” she said.
During the lockdown, authorities went through the school with police dogs, searching for any other weapons or drugs.
Coincidentally, the school system had just begun its first initiative Thursday to randomly search the county’s middle and high schools for weapons using police dogs.
A couple of the dogs were at Northeast High doing a search early Thursday, but they were quickly sent to Howard.
The security measure resulted from a gun incident at a Bibb County middle school in August.
Aug. 25, a 13-year-old boy at Bloomfield Middle School discharged a .38-caliber gun at school. No one was injured, and the 13-year-old was later expelled and sentenced to a year of confinement.
As a precaution Thursday, Howard High parents were called through the school system’s emergency telephone system and told about the gun. A notification letter was also promptly put on the high school’s Web site.
The Bibb County school system reported five incidents of students caught with handguns in the 2007-08 school year, according to the latest state student incident report.
While school officials use metal wands to periodically check students for drugs and weapons, there hasn’t been discussion about placing metal detectors at school doors permanently, Patterson said.
There will be frequent searches with police dogs in the system’s middle and high schools, Patterson said.
“They will be random and regular,” she said.
Writer Amy Leigh Womack contributed to this report.