Mesa boy, 8, with gun 'was afraid,' now suspended - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Mesa boy, 8, with gun 'was afraid,' now suspended

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Posted: Saturday, January 14, 2012 8:41 pm

A second grader at Mesa's Franklin Northeast Elementary School who brought a loaded semi-automatic pistol to school and fired it on a school bus was suspended by the school's principal and could face further disciplinary action.

The student, an 8-year-old boy, told police he took the gun to school not because he was being bullied, but that "he was afraid" and that he didn't want anyone to "steal him," according to police documents. On the way home from school, the boy was manipulating the gun and it fired, shooting a bullet into the seat he was sitting in. The bus driver then took the gun away and it initally was turned over to police.

The boy had retrieved the gun from a case inside his parents' bedroom closet that had a lock on it, but the lock was not functional, according to Sgt. Ed Wessing, a Mesa police spokesman. Wessing said the boy did not "clearly understand" the hazards and dangers of taking the gun to school.

It wasn't clear why the boy was afraid or who he thought he was going to be abducted by, but the boy said he took the gun in case he needed to "strike" at them, according to the report.

When the officer asked him what he would do if someone tried to take him, the boy said he would "hit them with the gun," not fully understanding that he could shoot it, according to Detective Steve Berry, a Mesa police spokesman.

Neither the boy or his parents are facing charges involving the gun.

After speaking with the boy and his parents on Jan. 9, Franklin Northeast Principal Jeff Abrams decided to suspend the student for a period of up to 10 days and made a recommendation of further discipline which is expulsion per district policy, according to Helen Hollands, district spokeswoman. As of Friday, the boy still was not on campus, Hollands said. If he is expelled, he would not be allowed to return to the school for one year, according to the Mesa Unified District's policy which prohibits students from bringing weapons to school.

However, the governing board may, on a case-by-case basis, provide for a lesser disciplinary action after consideration of all relevant circumstances, according to provisions in the district's policies.

The principal's report on the matter will move on up the chain of command to the district's administration and remains under review before the district's governing board will decide whether to uphold expel the boy while it also considers options of how to discipline him if at all.

Steve Peterson, the president of the district's governing board, told the Tribune on Friday that Mesa schools experiences about three incidents a year of students bringing weapons to school, mostly loaded guns; students who all have been expelled.

However, Hollands and Peterson said that the Jan. 6 incident involving the second grader was unique in the fact that an elementary school student had brought the gun to school; they added that each incident has its unique set of circumstances.

Members of the governing board have not yet received Abrams' initial report and recommendation, but will be looking at what leeway it could have since the governing board can make the final decision.

"This will be a tough decision," Peterson said. "There will be implications either way. "We want to make sure we're consistent with the school's policy but act within the options we have."

Mary Stencer, a former substitute teacher in Mesa, who currently is serving as a tutor, said she does not believe the boy should be expelled.

"I don't think that he should be expelled and not be able to go back to that school for a year," Stencer said. "I think the parents are more at fault because they didn't have the gun put away safely and probably need to give the boy better instruction on not taking being able to take certain things."

Hollands said, "Certainly, the district does not want this to drag out, so we plan to do this expeditiously but give the student due process."

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