Gulfport police chief urges vigilance after gun incident at school

ROBIN FITZGERALD/SUN HERALDPolice said a Gulfport middle-schooler brought this gun to school on Thursday, April 7.
ROBIN FITZGERALD/SUN HERALDPolice said a Gulfport middle-schooler brought this gun to school on Thursday, April 7.

GULFPORT -- What police said was a loaded gun and extra ammo taken to school by a 14-year-old this week prompted Police Chief Leonard Papania to deliver a strong message on the need for responsibility.

At a press conference, Papania said he doesn't know why the teen did it and has no reason to believe the teen had any particular target in mind. No one was hurt and the student was taken into custody Thursday at North Gulfport 7th and 8th Grade School.

School resource officers -- trained in active-shooter situations -- and school administrators acted quickly after a student came forward to warn them.

"What we saw (Thursday) is really everything we hope for in the this day and time," Papania said of the response.

He said it could happen again, given today's culture, but he stressed parents can help prevent it.

He urged them to be active in their children's lives and responsible for guns in their home.

"If you have guns in the home, secure them," he said.

"Look at the way your kids are portraying themselves on social media.

"Look at who they're with and how their living.

"It's OK to look in your kid's school bag before they go to school."

He said students should never be afraid to report suspicions of danger to a teacher or other adult.

"Even if it's a BB gun," he said. "The message is that guns can kill people."

Taken in book bag

Papania delivered those messages Friday after a student reportedly brought a gun, a mask and extra ammo to North Gulfport 7th and 8th Grade School in his book bag Thursday.

A fellow student told an administrator, officials said, who told school resource officers. The gun and ammo were seized without incident within 10 minutes, he said.

Papania showed reporters the gun, a .22-caliber Ruger Mark III, an extra clip and a small box containing 50 bullets.

It came from the boy's home and belongs to a family member, Papania said, noting the gun owner had committed no crimes.

"There were moment in that day were we believe other students became aware of (the gun)" before one student came forward, he said. "That kid is a hero. That principal is a hero and that SRO is a hero."

He said the situation's safe resolution points to the partnership of teachers and resource officers -- whose job includes building relationships with students. He noted the need to balance an open learning environment with keeping schools safe.

"Don't put this on the teachers' backs," he said. "You can't even find a prison where contraband doesn't get in."

Case is in youth court

Papania said investigators are trying to figure out the student's motive for bringing the gun, such as being bullied.

Their findings will be turned over to Harrison County Youth Court. The public may never know the motive because of privacy issues.

Papania said parents of children at the school have no immediate reason to worry.

The situation ended safely, though Papania said it could have ended badly:

"The means was there. The motive, I'm not clear on. But my level of concern is it's pretty intense."

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