Guns found on school campuses

167 firearm incidents reported at schools statewide

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – When a staff member at Osceola High School learned a student may have brought a gun on campus in 2015, the employee told the school's resource officer he wanted to remain anonymous and refused to provide a written statement to police.

The staff member, after all, was trusted by many students who confided in him and had  previously helped provide school administrators with information about other incidents.

That employee's special relationship with the students got results.

Read student incident reports, here.

The school's vice principal stopped 16-year-old Somore Fagan in the hallway and searched his bag. That's where the administrator discovered an unloaded 38-caliber Diamondback handgun, according to Kissimmee police.

Just nine days after officers arrested Fagan, an Osceola High student approached a teacher, claiming yet another schoolmate might have a firearm.

Administrators opened that teen's bag and recovered another unloaded 38-caliber handgun that was hidden in a rolled-up t-shirt.

The most recent statistics available from the 2015-2016 school year reveal that public schools reported 167 firearm incidents to Florida's Department of Education.

That number is an increase from the 137 gun-related incidents reported at schools statewide the previous school year.

In 2013-2014, there were 144 incidents involving firearms, according to state records.

However, a News 6 review of some of those incidents suggests the number of actual firearms found on school campuses may actually be a bit less.

Some involved pellet or BB guns, which are not considered firearms under state reporting guidelines. 

In addition, some school district officials acknowledged they mistakenly reported incidents to the state that did not actually involve guns.

Besides notifying the state's education department, school districts are also required to contact law enforcement when any type of weapon is found on campus.

Police reports obtained by News 6 provide some insight into why students bring guns to school, where they may be obtaining the weapons, and how school administrators are finding them.

Students give explanations for guns

When Kissimmee police arrested Fagan at Osceola High in September 2015, the teen originally claimed he did not know the gun was in his bag.

However, a fellow student told investigators he witnessed Fagan 'flash' the weapon after Fagan indicated he wanted to fight another schoolmate.

The teen allegedly stole the handgun from his aunt, who had been threatening to report him to police, according to a report. 

The other student who was arrested for gun possession at Osceola High told administrators he brought the weapon to school because he was receiving anonymous threats on Kik, a social media platform.

"He traded his X-Box (video game system) for the gun from an adult he met on his way to school and can't identify the adult," the police report states.

In January 2016, Orange County deputies said they discovered a 17-year-old Timber Creek High School student was keeping a fully loaded semi-automatic handgun in the trunk of his car, along with a knife and marijuana.

After originally claiming the weapon belonged to his older brother, the teen told investigators he purchased the gun himself from a friend for $250.

The following month, Orange County deputies arrested a 17-year-old who brought a similar handgun into a classroom at Wekiva High School that was loaded with three rounds.

"He stated he purchased the firearm for $130 from an unknown student who goes to Wekiva High School," a deputy wrote in a report. "(The student) advised he did not have any intention of hurting anyone. He stated he was merely fascinated by the sight of the weapon and he wanted to buy it and take it home."

When Daytona Beach police confiscated a gun and a loaded magazine from a 14-year-old at a fast food restaurant located next to Seabreeze High School in December 2015, the student did not indicate where he obtained the weapon.

However, when the teen's mom arrived at the police precinct, she told investigators the gun belonged to her and said she had no idea her son had taken it.

Sometimes, law enforcement is unable to determine how a gun got on campus.

In September 2015, a first grade student at Altamonte Elementary showed up at school with a Russian-made Makarov 9 millimeter pistol in his backpack. The gun and magazine were loaded with eight cartridges.

"It was ready to be discharged," a Seminole County deputy wrote in a report.

The first grader told investigators he found the gun inside his backpack. Without touching it, the child immediately alerted his teacher.

Authorities concluded the child unknowingly brought the weapon to school.

Since the student's father told investigators he did not own a gun, the weapon was placed into a safe at the sheriff's office and labeled "found" until an owner could be identified.

Guns often reported by fellow students

In October 2015, a woman contacted administrators at East River High School, concerned her son might have a gun at school.

She was right.

An Orange County Sheriff's Office arrest report does not indicate why the mother suspected her son brought the handgun and loaded magazine on campus, and News 6 could not reach her for comment.

Many Central Florida school districts will occasionally use metal detectors to screen students for weapons and other contraband.

But the most effective means of finding guns at schools may be fellow students who hear rumors about firearms or actually see the weapons themselves.

In nearly every police report reviewed by News 6, guns found in Central Florida schools were first brought to the attention of administrators by students.

"The best eyes and ears we have on every campus are the students," said Marion County Public Schools spokesman Kevin Christian.

"They feel the pulse of their campus.  Students talk to each other.

 And eventually, students end up talking to adults when they report weapons on campus."

Some young witnesses have expressed concern about retaliation for reporting the weapons.

In most of those cases, school officials did not share the witnesses' identities with law enforcement or officers intentionally kept the students' names out of public police reports.

Punishments for bringing guns on campus

Under Florida law, school districts must have zero-tolerance policies requiring students who knowingly bring a firearm on campus to be expelled for at least a year.  The districts must also refer those offenders to the criminal justice or juvenile justice system.

Since juvenile offenders' court records are generally confidential, it is difficult to know what other punishments students may face for possessing a gun at school.

The two students who were arrested for bringing guns to Osceola High were both sentenced to probation with a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m curfew, Kissimmee Police indicated.  In addition, the teens' drivers licenses were revoked and they were ordered to attend a "life skills" class.

Most Central Florida students who were arrested for bringing guns to school in the 2015-2016 school have had no further legal problems, court records show.  (For that reason, News 6 has chosen not to identify them by name).

One exception is Somore Fagan.   Less than nine months after he brought a gun to Osceola High, Kissimmee Police arrested him for armed robbery. 

Fagan, who is now 18, is currently serving a 2-year prison sentence for that crime.

School firearm incidents may be less common than state records indicate

Each year, public school districts report a wide variety of incidents, including sexual assaults, fights and alcohol possession, to Florida's Department of Education.

In the 2015-2016 school year, 167 schools reported firearm-related incidents, according to School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR) data.

However, a News 6 review of incidents in Central Florida schools revealed that some were erroneously reported to the state.

In 2015-2016, Flagler County Public Schools reported firearm-related incidents at Buddy Taylor Middle School, Indian Trails Middle School and Imagine School at Town Center.

However, after News 6 contacted the district to obtain the dates of those incidents, an attorney for Flagler County's school board confirmed there were actually no firearms found that year.

"The SESIR coding that we have defaulted to 'firearm' when the actual item that was part of the incident was not a firearm," said attorney Kristy Gavin.  ​"The reports were corrected internally, but they could not be corrected with (the Department of Education)."

In at least four cases, including one reported at Forest High School in Marion County, News 6 discovered the weapons were actually pellet or BB guns.

Although possession of BB guns on campus can lead to suspension or expulsion, such air-powered devices do not meet federal or state definitions of firearms, according to SESIR reporting rules.

It was not immediately known how many BB guns have erroneously been reported to the Department of Education as firearms, nor how many school districts later discovered inaccuracies in the data.

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