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Tip leads Ill. police to six guns inside high school

The Associated Press

PONTIAC, Ill. Police aren’t sure what was planned for six handguns found at Pontiac High School.

The guns weren’t loaded, and students didn’t have ammunition. Still, the weapons, found just eight days into the new school year, left authorities, parents and administrators speculating about worst-case scenarios.

Three teens, all juveniles, were arrested at the 900-pupil school on Tuesday, Police Chief Dale Newsome said during a news conference in Pontiac, a town of 11,800 about 30 miles northeast of Bloomington.

Livingston County State’s Attorney Thomas Brown declined to identify the three students because of their ages. He wasn’t sure what charges they could face.

The arrests ended a tense morning for Nancy Wooldridge, who waited hours outside the school with about 100 other parents. Her husband called early Tuesday to say he’d heard something, possibly a shooting, was happening on the campus just east of downtown.

“I got up there right away,” said Wooldridge, whose 17-year-old daughter just started her senior year. “We all decided we weren’t going to leave until we knew our kids were safe.”

A police officer briefed them regularly, trying to reassure them, Wooldridge said, but “I wanted to feel her in my arms to definitely know that she was OK.”

Police locked down the high school about 8:30 a.m. after someone told a police officer based on campus that at least one student had brought guns to school.

“When we are told that student A has guns, we immediately went to student A’s area, his locker, and sure enough, there were guns there,” Newsome said.

"They were not loaded," police Maj. Jim Woolford said in an interview, adding that he didn’t know why the guns were at the school. “I don’t know. That hopefully will come out in the subsequent investigation.”

Neither Brown nor Newsome was sure how the students knew each other. Investigators were searching social networking Web sites such as MySpace looking for clues about what was planned for Tuesday at the school, but so far have found nothing, Newsome said.

Five other schools near the high school were locked down as a precaution Tuesday morning, Woolford said.

Classes are expected to resume at the high school today. Pontiac District 90 Superintendent Leo Johnson planned a schoolwide meeting early in the day to talk about Tuesday’s events.

Wooldridge, who was a student at Pontiac High 25 years ago, said she considered keeping her daughter home.

“I did, but she said she wants to go, so I’m going to let her go,” Wooldridge said.

Johnson, who joined the district in July, said his schools trained for a lockdown — when students can’t leave their classes and entrances and exits are closed — at least twice last year.

Woolford couldn’t recall students ever bringing guns to a Pontiac school, but said other students have threatened violence in the past.

“We had had several Internet-type threats that never manifested and we made arrests on,” he said, adding that those incidents didn’t appear to be related to Tuesday’s lockdown and arrests.

Newsome said he didn’t know how the teenagers could have gotten the six handguns, but added that Livingston County was farm country.

“It would not be uncommon for the parents of these children to have weapons,” Newsome said.

Just the same, one local man said guns don’t usually show up in school.

“This is small town USA — this isn’t supposed to happen here,” Earl Ross, whose five nieces and nephews attend the high school, told The (Bloomington) Pantagraph.

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