GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids police are looking into how a 7-year-old student brought an unloaded handgun into Cesar E. Chavez Elementary. School officials held a news conference Wednesday, expressing a need for change.
The incident happened around 9:50 this morning, after a different student reported to staff that the student had the gun. Teachers and staff searched the student’s backpack and found a weapon.
It was not loaded and did not have a magazine, according to Larry Johnson, Grand Rapids Public Schools chief of staff and executive director of public safety. There were no threats to anyone, the child was removed from the school and classes continued.
The child was 7 years old, according to Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Winstrom.
Leaders with GRPS said they’re frustrated, yet relieved nobody was hurt.
“I want to reiterate, a child, brought a gun,” said Johnson. “But that child brought that gun from a home, when adults should’ve been responsible for securing that weapon.”
This is the third time this academic year that school officials confiscated a gun from a student.
“I am frustrated that this isn’t the first time this year that this has happened in our district,” said Leadriane Roby, GRPS superintendent. “It’s happened three different times. Our staff has taken guns away, in our schools, on three separate occasions. I find it even more concerning that these confiscations are involving middle school and elementary young people.”
Winstrom said they are treating the student as a victim and the parents of the child could face charges.
“It’s going to be talking to the adults in this 7-year-old’s life,” he said. “And trying to put together the pieces of where the gun came from, who was responsible for allowing this 7-year-old access to it, and then we’ll review all those facts, and we’ll talk to the prosecutor’s office to see, you know, as far as moving forward with criminal charges,” he said.
Roby said the district is considering additional safety measures. Metal detectors have already been installed at some GRPS schools.
“Metal detectors, they are a deterrent, but we also don’t want to provide a false sense of that will be the only tool,” she said. “Remember, this is a place of education, we do not want our schools to become prisons.”
She said the best defense is relationships with young people.
“The young scholar who shared with his teacher that he thought his classmate had a gun in his backpack, that means that he trusts the adult in his life to share that. And so that is our best form of defense. Our next level is just to have constant conversations with our young people that guns are not toys,” Roby said.
Roby commended the student who reported the situation.
“Their quick thinking allowed us to address the matter immediately. We urge all parents to use this incident as an opportunity to remind their children to speak up when something doesn’t seem right,” said Roby said in a statement.
In a statement released earlier today, Roby wrote, “We want to emphasize the importance of safe gun storage. Children are curious and we implore all gun owners to lock and store their weapons safely out of their reach.”
This comes just three weeks at Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a safe storage bill, which states, if you own a gun or if a minor is expected to be in a gun owner’s home, they will be required to lock their weapon away.
“There’s no reason parents and adults in Grand Rapids and our community shouldn’t be doing that right now. Do not let these kids get a hold of these guns,” Winstrom said. “If that public act was in effect today, that would be a 93-day misdemeanor at least.”
School officials are encouraging parents to check their children’s backpacks before they head to school.
“So, our cry, and my personal cry to this community: if we are serious about reducing gun violence, it starts with our youth, it starts with parents securing weapons if they have children living in their homes,” said Johnson.
GRPS spokesman Leon Hendrix reminded the community that state student safety program OK2SAY was designed for students and anyone else to send anonymous text tips to let authorities know about safety concerns in or out of school.
Roby will hold a forum on school safety later this month; details about exactly when are still being organized.