GRIFFITH — A student who says he accidentally brought a loaded gun in his pocket to school Wednesday was arrested but is cooperating with police after immediately turning the weapon over to a school resource officer, authorities said.
The 18-year-old Griffith High School student gave up the weapon as soon as he realized he had it on him Wednesday morning, and had no ill-intentions, said George Jerome, director of finance and operations at Griffith Public Schools.
But actions have consequences, he said.
“I think it will (send a strong message). One of our follow-ups is going to be making sure we communicate with the students that these things can’t be taken lightly. Given the climate, with last week in Florida, there are just things you cannot do and have to be aware of,” Jerome said.
Griffith Police Cmdr. Keith Martin said the student was taken to the Lake County Jail on pending charges of possession of a handgun on school property, a level 6 Felony. The adult student's name is being withheld pending formal charges.
Indiana law allows licensed handgun carriers to possess guns in school parking lots, provided they are kept out of sight and in a locked vehicle. However, state law excludes students except for those on shooting sports teams who have their principal's approval.
Guns are not allowed to be brought into school buildings.
Parents receive robocall
An automated mass robocall was sent to parents Wednesday afternoon, explaining the situation, Jerome said.
The robocall explains the student has a license-to-carry permit and that he “actively sought out” the school resource officer in the hallway to report his mistake. No students or staff members were in immediate danger at the time of this incident, the school said in the robocall.
According to police, after the student discovered the loaded gun in his pocket, he asked the resource officer if he could “cut him a break," by allowing him to secure the gun in his car, which was parked in the school lot.
Instead, the resource officer took possession of the .380 caliber Glock Model 42 and took the student into custody without incident.
Jerome said the school did not have to be placed on lockdown at any time.
Prior to Wednesday's incident, acting superintendent Michele A. Riise sent a letter to parents Tuesday addressing the Florida tragedy and assuring families that the district has a safety plan in place.
"The members of our staff have been trained on the specifics of this plan, and we conduct periodic lock down drills to ensure that everyone knows their role during crisis. Our schools also have specific protocols for entry to our schools, and we appreciate the understanding of our parents and community members as we enforce these protocols for the safety of our children," Riise wrote in the letter.
Jerome said prior to the shooting in Florida, the school requested an outside safety audit to review protocols in place.
"They'll take a look at it with new eyes, make some recommendations and then the school and Griffith police will go over results and tighten (where needed,) Jerome said.
Florida shooting led to copycat threats in Region
Last week's fatal mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school quickly led to copycat threats across Northwest Indiana and the country, but police said in Griffith’s case, the firearm was not brandished or used in any illegal way other than its mere possession by the student on school property.
Since the Florida shooting, there have been reported threats to Crown Point High School, Lowell High School and Lake Central High School in St. John.
Schools and local law enforcement have been on heightened alert since the Parkland shooting, and Jerome said Griffith Public Schools have received other threats of violence in recent years, including a bomb threat and graffiti written in the bathroom threatening a shooting last year.
Past incidents in the Region
School officials and local law enforcement have taken a hard stance against students bringing guns onto school grounds.
In December, police were called out to New Vistas High School in Portage after another student saw a 16-year-old boy from Gary trying to give a loaded gun away.
The teen, who was not licensed to carry, was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm on school property, theft of a firearm and possession of a handgun without a permit.
The boy claimed he bought the gun for $100 in Chicago, but police learned the gun was reported stolen from Merrillville.
In November, an East Chicago Central High School student was arrested after police found two loaded semi-automatic pistols locked in the glove compartment of the teen's car while parked at the high school.
Jerome said the Griffith student has been suspended. Police are handling the criminal investigation.