Just days after a deadly Florida school shooting that resulted in 17 fatalities and 14 wounded, school officials and law enforcement officers underscored the need for parental involvement and proper student behavior, as they contend with students bringing or threatening to bring guns and weapons aboard school buses.
A middle-school student at Baldwin County Public Schools near Mobile, Alabama, did actually bring a handgun to campus on Thursday. Schools were briefly in lockdown while police swept the area, confiscated the gun and took the student into custody.
“The safety plan and lockdown procedure worked well. But most importantly, a student saw something and reported it immediately to a teacher who alerted administrators,” Superintendent Eddie Tyler said.
On Friday morning, a student riding his school bus in the same district “made flippant comments” about bringing a gun to school, according to Tyler. Another student overheard the statements and called 911 from his cellphone. Police quickly surrounded the bus before determining no gun was present.
"If you have guns at your home, lock them up. Know what your child is leaving home with—look through your child’s backpack. Know the communication your child is having via text or social media or in person,” Tyler urged parents. “Please stress to your child NOT to talk about guns, bringing guns to school or any of the sort, and if they see something or hear something, to not converse about it but to say something immediately to a teacher, administrator or school resource officer.”
In central Florida’s Marion County Public Schools, 17-year-old Merquetio Alan Stevenson, who had five prior felony convictions, was arrested on Thursday for making threats of violence on the school bus. “Several students witnessed Stevenson saying that he was going to shoot and blow the school up and that they were all going to die. Stevenson then began ranting about blowing up the bus and about how body parts would be everywhere,” the Marion County Sheriff's Office said.
“I encourage you to remind your child that any threat of violence will be fully investigated with discipline and legal consequences. This includes social media,” warned Superintendent Dr. Heidi Maier in a phone message sent to parents.
The district office added that there was increased police presence at the high school on Friday to visually reinforce the precautions being taken. Nonetheless, over half of the students were absent that day.
In Hall County Schools, located northeast of the Atlanta metro area, a school bus driver on a Friday afternoon route overheard a student say he or someone else aboard had a gun. The driver immediately radioed the shop, who quickly called 911.
Eyewitness video shows Gainesville police and Hall County Sheriff’s officers approaching the stopped bus while instructing students to hold their hands out of the windows. They evacuated the bus and searched it and the students, but found no gun.
“Investigators also responded to the scene and were able to determine that the incident was in fact a hoax perpetrated by a 16 year-old male student,” revealed the sheriff’s office. The student was taken into custody and charged with disorderly conduct and disrupting operation of a public school bus, as well as simple assault.
The sheriff’s office minced no words in condemning the “exceptionally bad judgement” shown by the student. “What if this student's statement had caused a true panic on that bus, with kids trying to bail out in the roadway while it's still moving and traffic flying by? What if the driver hadn’t been as collected and freaked out and crashed?,” officials questioned. “This thing could’ve have gone down so much worse; thanks to God above that it didn’t.”
Students and school staff across the country are being encouraged by the Women's March organization to walk out of class at 10 a.m. on March 14 for 17 minutes, in remembrance of the 17 victims of Florida’s shooting and to call for more gun control laws. Students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where the shooting took place have organized a “March for Our Lives” which will head to Washington, D.C. on March 24 to demand “a comprehensive and effective bill ... to address gun violence.”