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    Teacher brings gun to school

    The substitute, a former resource officer and deputy, was sent home. The case has been turned over to the State Attorney's Office.

    By MELANIE AVE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2001


    TAMPA -- On the second anniversary of the Columbine High massacre Friday, authorities worried a student would bring a gun to school. But it was a 44-year-old substitute teacher who was caught with a loaded .38-caliber revolver.

    Cynthia Seymour, a substitute for Hillsborough schools since March and a former sheriff's deputy, was questioned after a school deputy saw the handgun poking from her back pocket at Tampa Bay Technical High School. The gun was confiscated, and she was sent home.

    She was not arrested.

    "There was no threat," said sheriff's spokesman Lt. Rod Reder. "She wasn't going to use it with anybody."

    Seymour declined to comment Friday, and sheriff's officials would not say why she brought the gun.

    Because Seymour holds a state law enforcement certificate and a concealed weapons permit, it was unclear if she broke any laws. It's a third-degree felony for someone without a permit to carry a firearm onto school grounds, and a second-degree misdemeanor for someone with a permit. Deputies turned the case over to the State Attorney's Office for review.

    School district policy prohibits employees from bringing weapons to school unless they are law enforcement officers.

    "It's a sad irony today of all days," said school spokesman Mark Hart. "Regardless of her rationale for having it . . . it's not justifiable. School district employees should not be carrying weapons on campus, just as students should not be carrying weapons."

    Seymour has a private investigator's license and once worked as the school resource officer at Tampa Bay Tech.

    School Deputy J.R. Sepulveda discovered the gun after responding to an argument between another teacher and a student about 8:50 a.m. Seymour was nearby and he noticed the butt of the gun poking from her back pocket. He confiscated the gun, which held five bullets.

    Most students weren't aware of what had happened until after classes ended. Principal Sylvia Albritton sent a letter home to parents, saying the "teacher was not in possession of the weapon while in the classroom, and at no time did she display the weapon in the presence of our students."

    Seymour will not teach in the district until the investigation is completed, Hart said.

    State records show Seymour worked as a Hillsborough County deputy from 1991 to 1998.

    Tampa lawyer Mina Morgan said the Tampa Bay Tech incident shows that authorities are being tougher on students than on adults when it comes to their new get-tough approach to school violence. Morgan represents two Sickles High School students who were overhead talking about a school bombing during a cordless phone conversation.

    "She sounds a lot more dangerous than my kids," Morgan said, referring to the 15-year-old and 17-year-old who were arrested but not charged with a crime because of a lack of evidence. "Carrying a gun around a school, walking around with a gun in your back pocket is nuts."

    Despite concerns about copycat violence on the Columbine anniversary, the day went smoothly at most schools, Hart said.

    Brandon High was evacuated after someone called in a false bomb threat, and classes at Jefferson High were let out a few minutes early after someone called in a false bomb threat.

    About 30 percent of Hillsborough's high school students were absent, compared to an average of 5 to 10 percent.

    "They were just taking advantage of the situation," said Henry Jimenez, a Tampa Bay Tech student. "I knew nothing was going to happen."

    - Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or melanie@sptimes.com.

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