Bullets bring trouble to schools, students

Posted2/4/2012 8:00 AM

Last October, an 18-year-old student at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville brought a bullet to school that he'd found off campus and showed it to friends.

Not a gun. Just a bullet.


He was charged with illegal possession of ammunition and possession of ammunition without a firearm owner's identification card.

It's a scene that's been popping up elsewhere lately -- school officials or students two times in the last couple weeks have found a bullet in a school.

Taking a gun to school is one thing. But taking just a bullet is another. Or is it?

It happened last fall in St. Charles. It's happened several times in recent years in Carpentersville-based District 300 schools. And it's happened twice recently in Burlington-based Central Unit District 301.

On Jan. 23, a staff member at Country Trails Elementary School in Elgin found a 9 mm bullet in a school hallway at dismissal time, leading police to inspect the school that night, said Greg Rabenhorst, the district's assistant superintendent. The next day, school officials ordered a soft lockdown in which nobody was allowed to leave the school until officials searched the school, backpacks and belongings.

The following day, during school hours, a student found a .22 caliber bullet in a hallway at Central Middle School in Burlington and notified a teacher.

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That prompted a hard lockdown. During that time, nobody could leave classrooms until district administrators and police, as well as their dogs, checked lockers, classrooms and backpacks.

The district ordered a hard lockdown because the bullet was discovered while students were still in the building, Rabenhorst said.

In both cases, the searches turned up empty and police continue to investigate how they got there.

"We don't have any suspects in mind," Elgin police Lt. Glenn Theriault said. "The possibilities are endless of how it could have ended up there."

District 300 has dealt with this issue five times in the last four years, said Gary Chester, the district's safety officer.

In two cases, an elementary and middle school student who brought a .22-caliber bullet to school had been wearing the same pants they'd worn on a hunting trip. They had merely forgotten to remove the bullet from their pants, Chester said.


In another case, an elementary school student found a shotgun shell off campus and brought it to school to show it off to friends. A first-grader did the same thing with a .22-caliber bullet.

The latest case was a .22-caliber that a custodian found in one of the high school's hallways at the end of the previous school year.

John Heiderscheit, district safety coordinator in Elgin Area District U-46, said while some students mistakenly bring illegal items to school, others are not so innocent.

"There are a variety of reasons why kids bring these items to school," Heiderscheit said. "The majority of the time it is to show off or something like that. We need to do everything we can to make sure parents are well-informed that bringing any kind weapon or ammunition to school is a problem."

In response to the bullet found in the District 300 high school, authorities combed through video footage of the hallway, searched all of the lockers in the immediate area of that hallway with Chester and police, and went through backpacks belonging to the students who have lockers in that area.

They also discussed any rumors about anyone trying to hurt someone else. Authorities were never able to find out to whom the bullet belonged.

When the district matches a bullet to a student, disciplinary action follows, whether it's ordering the student to undergo random searches, telling parents and police, and noting the behavior in the student's file.

Kane County sheriff's Lt. Pat Gengler noted that police have similar reactions to reports of guns and bullets.

"If there's a bullet here, is there a gun? Usually when you find one, you find the other, so we're going to keep looking to make sure that wasn't the case," he said.

Administrators do not treat bullets with the same severity as they would a gun.

"If we found a gun, that is an expellable offense," District 300's Chester said. "A gun is completely out of the league of just finding a bullet in a school."

In Elgin Area District U-46, the punishment is contingent on a number of factors, Heiderscheit said. "You have to look at the totality of the circumstances," he said. "It depends on what the evidence shows and if there was a threat aligned. That is different from if a student brought it in to show off, though there would be action one way or another."

If it's found that a student brought the bullets to the schools in District 301, the student, depending on his or her age, could face charges in the juvenile court system, Gengler said.

If so, police would work with the student and the district and focus on rehabilitation to ensure it doesn't happen again.

"Let's say this was a second-grader. They're too young to charge with a criminal offense," Gengler said. "I can't arrest a second-grader. A second-grader probably doesn't understand what they did. They may understand it's wrong, but they may not understand the legal ramifications."


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