Attorney seeks to keep boy found with gun in custody; police may charge guardians
[Kingsland, FL]

Gordon Jackson, Times-Union staff writer
March 21, 2001 Wednesday, Georgia Edition
Copyright 2001 The Florida Times-Union
The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL)
March 21, 2001 Wednesday, Georgia Edition

(KINGSLAND, Fla.) -- A prosecutor says he will ask a juvenile court judge today not to release a 12-year-old boy caught with a gun in a Camden County elementary school Monday into the custody of his legal guardians.

Police also said yesterday they are continuing to investigate the matter and may consider charges against the boy's guardians if it's determined they were negligent.

W. Frank Aspinwall, assistant district attorney with the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, said he will make the request at a detention hearing scheduled today to determine whether the youth should remain in custody until his hearing before a juvenile court judge.

Aspinwall said he plans the request because the youth was caught with a .22-caliber revolver and ammunition for the weapon while in class at Matilda Harris Elementary School in Kingsland.

'We have to take this seriously,' Aspinwall said. 'I think we would be foolish not to look at it in this light.'

The weapon and ammunition were found in the boy's book bag Monday morning after the fifth-grader showed the gun to a classmate, who then notified teachers.

It's unclear why the youth brought the weapon to school, said Edwin Davis, assistant superintendent of Camden County schools. The boy initially told teachers he found the gun in a closet at home and planned to turn the weapon in at the principal's office.

He later told Kingsland police, however, he brought the gun to show classmates. There is no indication whether he planned to threaten or harm anyone with the weapon, police said.

'It might just be a stupid act by a 12-year-old, but there could have been a darker intention,' Aspinwall said.

The youth, who authorities will not identify because of his age, could be sentenced to five years in a youth detention center if found guilty and given the maximum penalty, Aspinwall said. It's unclear what penalties prosecutors will seek until an investigation of the incident and boy's background are completed, he said.

'Everybody has to be made aware that we will deal with this quickly,' Aspinwall said. 'Kids need to know there is no excuse for ever bringing a weapon to school, period. It will not be tolerated.'

Juvenile Court Judge Terry Floyd declined to comment about the case, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss the incident.

Interim Kingsland Police Chief Dayton Gillette said his agency is still investigating the incident and is considering charges against the youth's legal guardians.

'The parents are responsible for their children, particularly if the children are juveniles,' Gillette said.

Davis said concerned parents have called the school and administrative headquarters asking about the role of the youth's parents for storing the weapon in a place accessible by the child.

Valerie Ackerman, president of the school's PTA, said she was in shock to learn about the incident.

'I want to praise the child who came forward,' Ackerman said. 'To me that child saved lives yesterday.'

Ackerman said school officials sent letters home with the school's 639 pupils yesterday giving details about the incident and also talked with students at the school about the dangers of bringing weapons to school.

She also plans to address the issue with other parents at an upcoming PTA meeting.

'Parents are not [being] responsible when they don't secure these weapons,' Ackerman said. 'I do not believe we can take guns out of the home but they should be locked up.'

A total of 117 handguns and rifles were found in Georgia public schools during the 1999-2000 school year. Eight were found in elementary schools; 41 in junior high schools; and 68 in high schools.

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