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Boy charged with bringing gun to school

A teacher at West Zephyrhills Elementary confiscates the weapon after a classmate turns in the 11-year-old during a fire drill.

By CARY DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2000


ZEPHYRHILLS -- Police arrested an 11-year-old boy at West Zephyrhills Elementary Wednesday after a teacher found a loaded .357-caliber Magnum handgun in the duffel bag he brought to school.

Despite the brief scare, school administrators and police say the incident was handled perfectly, and they credited a classmate of the fifth-grade suspect with notifying his teacher as soon as he learned his friend had a gun on campus.

Principal Madonna Wise said the classmate delivered the disturbing news during a routine fire drill about 10 a.m. Wednesday. While students were outside the building, a teacher went to the boy's classroom, found the gun inside his duffel bag and took it to the office, Wise said.

"This is the way these types of things are supposed to be handled," said Pasco schools Superintendent John Long. "Everything was done perfectly and I couldn't be prouder of the classmate. He's the real hero in this."

Police charged the boy with possession of a weapon on school grounds and took him to the Pasco County Juvenile Detention Center in San Antonio. The Times is withholding the boy's name because of his age.

Long said this is the first time in his 24 years with the district that an elementary student was found with a gun at school. The boy will likely be expelled from West Zephyrhills Elementary and transferred to the James Irvin Education Center, Long said.

Police said the boy didn't intend to harm anyone with the gun.

"He doesn't have a history of violence," Long said. "He just brought the gun to school to show off."

Said Wise: "He made a real error in judgment. I don't think he thought of the repercussions. But this is not characteristic of him."

Neighbors in the modest south Zephyrhills neighborhood where the fifth-grader and his parents live expressed shock when they learned of the boy's arrest from a Times reporter.

"They're a good Christian family and very hard-working people," said David Hemphill, 34. "(The boy) spends a lot of his time at church."

No one answered the door at the family's single-wide mobile home Wednesday afternoon. They do not have a listed phone number.

The gun apparently belonged to the boy's 43-year-old father, Long said.

"I can't help but wonder how a kid gets a hold of something like this," Long said.

Zephyrhills police Capt. Medford Griffin said his agency is referring the case to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office to determine how the boy obtained the loaded weapon from his family's home. The mobile home is outside the city limits of Zephyrhills.

Griffin said the gun did not have a trigger lock. He also said the boy pulled the gun out of his duffel bag at school early Wednesday morning and showed it to at least one classmate.

As of late Wednesday, no charges had been filed against the boy's father and the Sheriff's Office would not comment on the status of its investigation.

Meanwhile, at the school, Wise met with the boy's classmates and explained what had happened. She also sent home a letter with each of the school's 780 students and encouraged parents to call her with concerns.

"We're very relieved everyone was okay and no one was endangered," Wise said.

She said she gave the classmate who reported the gun a basket of candy. Police did not release the classmate's name.

"He did such a great job," Wise said.

Wise said her students have been taught how to react when they think there's a weapon on campus. Last month, she said, a representative from the Sheriff's Office visited the school and gave a presentation on gun violence.

"We talk about zero tolerance," she said. "We stress it over and over."

Wednesday's incident marks the seventh time this school year that a Pasco student has brought a gun of some variety to campus and authorities found out about it, records show.

On Jan. 19, authorities say, 16-year-old Teddy Niziol was killed when his best friend, Steven Moschella, accidentally shot him as they drove away from Ridgewood High School. Moschella is awaiting trial on manslaughter charges.

Pasco Sheriff Lee Cannon said at a news conference after the shooting that Niziol shouldn't have died, because some of his friends knew he had brought a gun to school and they didn't tell authorities.

Niziol's family, meanwhile, has filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office and the School Board alleging that officials were handed a note before the shooting that said the teen planned to sell a gun. The note, however, did not say there was a gun on campus.

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