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Governor offers aid for widow of slain teacher

Gov. Bush also restates his opposition to gun control measures.

By WILLIAM YARDLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- A day after consoling the widow of a Lake Worth schoolteacher who was shot to death outside a classroom, Gov. Jeb Bush expressed "incredible sadness" at the death but restated his opposition to strengthening gun control measures.

Bush said Tuesday that the death Friday of Lake Worth Middle School teacher Barry Grunow, allegedly from a shot fired by 13-year-old student Nathaniel Brazill, further convinced him that the state must do a better job of enforcing its gun laws -- but not write new ones.

"What it leads me to believe is we should enforce the existing laws of the state," said Bush, who spoke with widow Pam Grunow and the school principal on Monday. The governor called on gun owners to take their responsibilities "more seriously."

Authorities believe Brazill used a .25-caliber handgun his grandfather kept in the drawer of a bedroom dresser. State law requires gun owners to store loaded weapons in locked containers or use trigger locks if children are "likely to gain access" to the weapon. Violating the law is a second-degree misdemeanor.

"I don't know how many times that law has been enforced," Bush said. "We ought to start doing it."

Mike Edmondson, a spokesman for the State Attorney's Office in Palm Beach County, said "whoever provided this individual with the weapon will be a target in the investigation. The whole history of the gun is being traced."

A regularly scheduled Palm Beach County grand jury was impaneled Tuesday and would begin hearing evidence in the case in one to two weeks, Edmondson said. Testimony was to include a state recommendation on whether to try Brazill as a juvenile or as an adult. Brazill is being held at a juvenile detention center.

During the legislative session that ended early this month, Bush and the Republican-controlled Legislature stopped Democrats' attempts to strengthen gun laws. A bill sponsored by Jacksonville Sen. Betty Holzendorf would have required gun owners to place trigger locks on loaded weapons kept in homes where children live, in addition to storing the weapons in locked containers.

"I feel for both the victim and the child," Holzendorf said Tuesday. "But the fault lies with the adults, and the Legislature."

Brazill, a seventh-grader, is accused of shooting Grunow in a hallway just before the last bell on the last day of the school year.

Earlier in the day, an assistant principal had dismissed Brazill -- an honor roll student with perfect attendance -- for throwing water balloons.

Brazill returned to school two hours later with a gun, authorities said. When Grunow refused to allow the boy in his classroom to talk to two girls, Grunow was shot in the head.

In West Palm Beach on Tuesday, hundreds honored Grunow at a memorial service as a beloved mentor, coach and counselor who reached out to others "even to the end."

Students, colleagues, family and friends of Grunow, 35, filed into Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, carrying single carnations and roses. In the center aisle was a collage of snapshots of Grunow placed on an easel between sprays of flowers.

The music of Jethro Tull, one of Grunow's favorite groups, filled the church.

"Barry was reaching out with grace, even to the end," the Rev. Bill Corristan said. "Even to the young man with a gun."

Afterward, some mourners gathered at the school to talk and to read goodbyes to Grunow crafted on poster board and construction paper and taped to a chain-link fence.

"Now he's safe," one poster drawn with colorful flowers read.

"Educate. Honor Barry Grunow," read another.

A West Palm Beach radio station devoted its morning call-in show to raising money to help with funeral expenses. Monica Barber of WRMF-FM 97.9 said callers had pledged $10,000 by noon.

Barry and Pam Grunow have a 5-year-old son, Sam, and a 5-month-old daughter, Lee-Anne. Bush called Pam Grunow Monday night to express sympathy and offer support.

"The story of this teacher, this dedicated teacher who was living in the community, riding a bike to school so his wife could attend to the needs of their family. . . . Those are real heroes," Bush said.

"I wanted her to know she should take her time about healing and grieving and she should not feel compelled to immediately go back to work. . . . That she could count on me to provide whatever help I could as a citizen of this state for her personally."

Bush press secretary Elizabeth Hirst said "there's some discussion about looking into the (state) victims' compensation fund" to help Pam Grunow.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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