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Threat prompts concern at school

The principal says a kindergartener threatened to shoot a classmate. The boy is suspended.

By KATHERINE GAZELLA

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 6, 2000


PALM HARBOR -- Security was tight at a Palm Harbor Elementary School classroom Monday after administrators suspended a kindergartener for saying he was going to bring a gun to school and shoot a classmate, Pinellas County school and sheriff's officials said.

On Friday, the 6-year-old boy told a classmate he was going to shoot a 6-year-old girl in his class on Monday, principal Bob McFadden said.

The boy was suspended for the remainder of the school year, which ends Wednesday, said Ron Stone, associate superintendent for human resources and public affairs. Parents said the door to the classroom was locked Monday to prevent anyone from getting in.

McFadden said he talked to the boy on Friday, and the boy told him he didn't mean it.

Even so, Stone said the school district takes all shooting threats seriously, especially in light of shootings at schools throughout the country. Some of the shooters have been young children, including a 6-year-old who fatally shot a classmate at a school near Flint, Mich., in February.

"We've taken a pretty hard-line stance," he said.

The girl told her mother about the threat in the parent pick-up line after school Friday. Her mother contacted school officials, who told her the boy was being suspended. She also filed a report with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

The girl came to school Monday afternoon, and her mother stayed in the office until the end of the school day, said her mother, who asked that her name not be used.

The girl's mother said she wasn't aware of any tension between the boy and her daughter. She said she still was worried about taking her daughter to school, but she felt better Monday when she saw the classroom door was locked so that no one could open it from the outside. Students inside could still leave the classroom.

Several parents who came to the school Monday afternoon to pick up their children after the last bell said other children in the class were aware that the boy had threatened to shoot the girl.

"The kids were scared to death," said Jill Sabol, whose daughter is in the kindergarten class.

Officers from the school district's campus police department met with the parents of the boy, Stone said. The officers made arrangements for the boy to get counseling if the parents agree to it, he said.

School officials sent a letter home to parents Monday afternoon, Stone said. By then, many parents already had heard about the threat from one another. Some parents said the school should have told them about the threat on Friday.

"I think all the parents in the class should have been notified," said Laura Sturm, whose daughter is in the class.

But McFadden said the threat was not made until the end of the school day Friday, and there would not have been time to prepare a note to be sent home to parents.

-- Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or at gazella@sptimes.com.

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