WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Officials speak out on gun arrests at school

‘It will not be tolerated’

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In less than a week, six people — five students and one teacher — have been charged in Wilson County for having a gun on school property.

The latest arrest came on Wednesday. Tyree Demetrius Lucas, 19, of 2135 Cockran Street, was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, breaking and entering a motor vehicle, larceny of a firearm and weapon on educational property.

Lucas was taken to the Wilson County Detention Center on a $5,000 secure bond.

According to Wanda Samuel, chief of staff with the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, the arrest is part of an ongoing investigation of a gun stolen at Beddingfield High School last week.

On Nov. 9, Beddingfield teacher Jonathan Daniel West told the school resource officer that his gun had been stolen from his car, according to Samuel.

“Mr. West reported that his vehicle was locked but his window was left partially down,” Samuel said in a news release last week. “He reported that his weapon was stolen from underneath the car seat.”

Deputies charged West with a felony count of having a gun on educational property and misdemeanor counts of carrying a concealed gun, possession of up to one-half ounce of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was jailed under a $10,000 secured bond.

Also last Friday, 16-year-old Montravius Jah’Quelle Harris of El Ramey Circle was arrested after authorities found an air rifle in the trunk of his car at Beddingfield, Samuel said. Someone had told the principal that Harris had a weapon in his car.

Harris was charged with possession of a weapon on a school campus and released to the custody of his parents.

On Tuesday, three Toisnot Middle School students were charged with possession of a weapon on school grounds. The three are all juveniles and are in custody in Pitt Regional Juvenile Detention Center.

The school resource officer was told at approximately 3:10 p.m. Tuesday that a student had a gun. The gun was located in the student’s pocket.

During the investigation, sheriff detectives learned that two other students had been in possession of the weapon as well.

“The three students had passed the weapon off to each other throughout the course of the day in means of keeping the gun hidden from law enforcement,” Samuel said.

ALL THREATS INVESTIGATED

According to Samuels, during the 2017-18 school year, the sheriff’s office had 10 reported incidents of weapons on school grounds.

“Out of the 10 reported incidents, nine arrests were made,” she said. One was referred to teen court. Eight of the incidents involved pocket knives, one report was a taser, and one was a report of a screwdriver that a student accidentally took to school, she said.

“There was no report of a gun on school campus during the 2017-2018 school year.”

Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard said he wants to make it clear that all threats to educational facilities will be investigated with the ending results being an arrest.

“This office takes it serious, and it will not be tolerated,” he said. “Our children deserve the best educational environment possible and we will make sure that it will be a reality for them.”

He also addressed parents.

“I request that each parent speak to their child about how important it is to make law enforcement and/or school officials aware of any violence or bullying at their school,” Woodard said. “We will continue our safety checks during and after school hours and support our educational partners.”

PRINCIPALS REACT

Principals at Beddingfield and Toisnot alerted parents to the situations through automated phone calls.

Toisnot’s principal, Wendy Sullivan, met students the next day because she knew that many of them had concerns, according to Amber Lynch, public relations director for WCS. She told them what happened and the importance of taking responsibility for their safety.

“I told them that it was a day that will be etched in my mind forever because I saw the sadness on the faces of those students’ families when they were charged,” Sullivan said. “That’s the other side of this. Yes, we are outraged when our safety is threatened, and we have zero tolerance, but we are also heartbroken for the students who make these choices. They are a part of our school family too, and their lives will never be the same.”

Sullivan told the students how proud she was of the person who came forward to tell School Resource Officer Deputy Ruby Freeman about the possibility of a weapon on campus. She also applauded the work of Freeman and Matthew Crayton, assistant principal.

“I tell our students that it’s everybody’s job to keep our school safe; it’s not just my job as your principal or our SRO’s job. There are more students in the building than adults, and we have to rely on them.”

Beddingfield’s principal, F.T. Franks, also commended the student who came forward with information last week at that school.

“We are a family at Beddingfield, and it takes all of us to protect it,” he said.

“When we came back to school on Tuesday after the holiday weekend, we had eight deputies on campus to reassure our students and also to remind those who are thinking about making a poor choice to reconsider.”

SCHOOL RESPONSE

Lane Mills, Wilson County Schools superintendent, said he cannot share the disciplinary actions that have been taken against the five students involved in these recent incidents. “I can assure you they are severe,” he said in a prepared statement. “As for the staff member at Beddingfield, he is no longer employed with our district and is also facing charges.”

Mills said the school system appreciates its partnership with the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office and commended the SROs who work at the schools every day.

“Our school district is comprised of 11,141 students and roughly 1,500 employees. On any given day, that’s thousands of people who are doing what needs to be done and staying focused on education,” Mills said. “Unfortunately, it only takes the poor decisions of a few to disrupt our learning environments, and nothing is as disruptive or disturbing as threats to our safety.

“That is why we have absolutely zero tolerance when it comes to instances that threaten the safety of our Wilson County Schools family. We cooperate with law enforcement to press charges against those who threaten us and also take measures at the school level.”

Mills said the district continues to evaluate and refine its safety measures.

According to a news release from the WCS office, the district is working on two new initiatives: an anonymous tip line and a monitoring program for student accounts in Google.

“The creation of the anonymous tip line will allow anyone who is hesitant to come forward in person the ability to share information anonymously instead,” said Lynch. “Wilson County Schools plans to roll out the tip line in the next few months rather than wait for the governor’s office to provide one next school year. The district is also piloting a program called Bark for Schools, which monitors all student communications in Google Suite and receives alerts when cyberbullying, suicidal ideation, sexual content and threats of violence are detected.”

“While safety measures are great deterrents, nothing beats relationships,” Mills said. “We always encourage our students and staff to share any information that they have about a possible threat, and we make sure they know their concerns will be taken seriously. This creates trust, empowers everyone in the building and allows school administrators, SROs and other staff members to take appropriate action.”

On Thursday, the sheriff commended the relationship between his office and Wilson County Schools.

“It is a relationship that exceeds any other that I am aware of,” Woodard said. “This is seen every day through the school’s administration interacting with my administration, the implementation of programs such as GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training), active assailant drills, SROs and the love between the students, teachers and SROs.

“All of these investigations are possible through these strong relationships and our passion to prevent violence in our educational facilities.”

Under North Carolina law, knowingly possessing or carrying any gun, rifle, pistol or other firearm on school property is a Class I felony resulting in a presumptive penalty of 4-6 months of community punishment.

Possession of less-lethal weapons, including knives, daggers, stun guns, air rifles and air pistols, is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Editor Corey Friedman contributed to this story.

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