Crime

Pointing a finger gun lands 12-year-old Johnson County student in handcuffs

Update: Girl who pointed a finger gun was a victim of bullies, her mom says. Read the story here.

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A 12-year-old Overland Park girl formed a gun with her fingers, pointed at four of her Westridge Middle School classmates one at a time, and then turned the pretend weapon toward herself.

Police hauled her out of school in handcuffs, arrested her and charged the child with a felony for threatening.

Shawnee Mission school officials said they could not discuss the case, citing privacy laws, but did say it wasn’t the district that arrested the child.

“We don’t do that,” said spokesman David Smith. “That is not our job.” He said the role of the district police is “not to enforce the law but to keep kids and adults safe.”

A school resource officer, employed, by the Overland Park Police Department, would have handled the arrest, Smith said. The department said it could not discuss the case.

But according to Johnson County District Court documents, on Sept. 18, the girl “unlawfully and feloniously communicated a threat to commit violence, with the intent to place another, in fear, or with the intent to cause the evacuation, lock down or disruption in regular, ongoing activities …” or created just the risk of causing such fear.

The Overland Park Police incident report provided to The Star included no details of what happened, only the date, time and place.

A person familiar with a more detailed incident report spoke to The Star on condition of anonymity. The person said that during a class discussion, another student asked the girl, if she could kill five people in the class, who would they be? In response, the girl allegedly pointed her finger pistol — like the ones many children use playing cops and robbers.

Because of that gesture, The Star was told, the girl was sent to Principal Jeremy McDonnell’s office, and the other students involved were also talked to. The school resource officer recommended that she be arrested, the source said. She was detained by police and later released to her mother. A hearing in the Juvenile Division of the District Court of Johnson County is set for Tuesday.

“I think that this is something that probably could have been handled in the principal’s office and got completely out of hand,” said Jon Cavanaugh, the girl’s grandfather in California, where the girl is now living. He said his granddaughter has no access to a real gun and she had no intent of harming anyone. “She was just mouthing off,” he said.

Smith said that in general, pointing a finger pistol might violate the district’s policy against intimidation and bullying. “I might not have anything in my hand but I might be so clear that the individual definitely feels threatened,” Smith said.

Following the many school shootings across the country, such as last year’s Feb. 14 mass killing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many states have adopted zero-tolerance polices for bullying and threatening. School officials are sensitive to any gesture or language that could threaten the safety of students, teachers or school staff.

In 2015, a Colorado first-grader was suspended from school after forming his fingers into the shape of a gun, pointing toward a classmate and saying, “You’re dead.” School officials there said they have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to threats.

A year earlier, in Columbus, Ohio, a 10-year-old boy was suspended for three days for pretending his finger was a gun. He reportedly pointed it at another student’s head.

Last month in the Shawnee Mission district, two 13-year-old students at Hocker Grove Middle School showed up with guns — the real thing — found stashed in their backpacks. Both were charged as juveniles in possession of a firearm, a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $2,500 or both.

It’s a felony only if a kid commits the same crime a second time. The principal of Hocker Grove said there was no evidence suggesting the teens had planned to use the guns at school.

According to district policy, having a gun at school results in expulsion for up to 186 days, but it wasn’t clear how the two students were disciplined.

Threatening is a felony.

Shawnee Mission’s policies define intimidation as “any intentional written, verbal, electronic, or physical act or threat which is severe, persistent and pervasive enough that it may be expected to: Harm a student or damage a student’s property. Create fear of harm to a student or fear of damage to a student’s property. Interferes with a student’s education or participation in a school-sponsored activity or event. Create an intimidating or threatening educational environment.”

The policy states that “conferencing, corrective discipline, and/or referral to law enforcement” could occur in such cases.

A felony charge could hurt a student’s chances of being accepted into certain colleges or the military.

“I’m really worried about my granddaughter’s future,” Cavanaugh said. He said he was told the child could face as much as a year at a juvenile detention center.

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Mará has written on all things education for The Star for 20 years, including issues of school safety, teen suicide, universal pre-K programs, college costs, campus protests and university branding.
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