Updated: 10-year-old student arrested for possession of a toy gun

Updated 10:58 a.m. Thursday

Note to readers: This is the finished article as it appeared in today’s edition of the Times. Earlier updates are posted below.

By Derrick Perkins

A 10-year-old Douglas MacArthur Elementary School student was charged with brandishing a weapon after police officers found a toy gun in his backpack Tuesday morning.

Alexandria City Public Schools officials alerted authorities after learning the fifth-grade child had shown a “weapon” to classmates on the bus ride home Monday afternoon, said district spokeswoman Kelly Alexander. By the time district staff contacted ACPS’ transportation company, all of the children had been dropped off for the day, she said.

Though a surveillance camera taped the ride, administrators reviewing the film did not see a weapon. Attempts to contact the suspected child’s guardian likewise proved unsuccessful. The contact information they provided to the district was erroneous, Alexander said.
School staff intercepted the child as he arrived Tuesday morning — he did not take the bus, Alexander said — and officers retrieved the toy gun from his bag, according to law enforcement officials.

Police department spokesman Jody Donaldson described the fake weapon as a silver handgun with a black handle and orange tip.

“The gun did not actually shoot or propel anything,” Donaldson said.

The child was taken into police custody on the misdemeanor charge following the incident and suspended from the Janneys Lane school, officials said. Superintendent Morton Sherman did not rule out the possibility of expulsion in a statement released after the incident.

“The safety of our students is always our first concern,” he said. “The school division will complete its investigation in cooperation with the police as we consider further disciplinary action, including expulsion. As always, we encourage direct communication from parents, including personal phone calls.”

Officials did not say why the toy gun rose to the level of an arrest, but police spokeswoman Ashley Hildebrandt described the department’s response as “pretty standard.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Sengel could not say whether his office would prosecute the case until he had reviewed police reports, witness statements and other evidence. He could not recall handling a similar case in his lengthy career as a prosecutor in Alexandria.

“We treat this like we do every case — we don’t make snap decisions,” Sengel said. “I can’t recall a case [that] has a similar fact pattern based on what I know. Of course, one of the things you do say in this business is that there’s always something new that comes up.”

The incident is not isolated. A student at Mount Vernon Community School allegedly handed out Airsoft pellet guns at the facility’s playground in mid-August, which also prompted a police response. The students involved were reprimanded, the principal said in a letter to parents sent out at the time.

And it’s a situation school officials across the country have dealt with in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre. In recent weeks, a 6-year-old in South Carolina was expelled for bringing a plastic toy gun to school and a high school student in Arizona was suspended after using an image of an AK-47 as the desktop wallpaper of his school-issued computer. Locally, a 6-year-old Montgomery County student was initially suspended after making a pretend gun with his hand.

 

Updated 5:33 p.m. Tuesday

A 10-year-old Douglas MacArthur Elementary school student was charged with brandishing a weapon after police officers found a toy gun in his backpack Tuesday morning.

Alexandria City Public Schools officials alerted authorities after learning from the parent of another student that the fifth grade child had shown a “weapon” to classmates on the bus ride home Monday afternoon, said district spokeswoman Kelly Alexander. By the time district staff contacted ACPS’ transportation company, all of the children had been dropped off for the day, she said.

Though a surveillance camera filmed the ride, administrators reviewing the tape did not spot a weapon. Attempts to speak with the suspected child’s guardian likewise proved unsuccessful. The contact information they provided to the district was erroneous, Alexander said.

School staff intercepted the child as he arrived Tuesday morning — he did not take the bus, Alexander said — and officers retrieved the toy gun from his bag, according to police officials.

Police department spokesman Jody Donaldson described the replica weapon as a silver handgun with a black handle and orange tip.

“The gun did not actually shoot or propel anything,” Donaldson said.

The minor was taken into police custody on the misdemeanor charge following the incident and suspended from the Janney’s Lane school, officials said. Superintendent Morton Sherman did not rule out a possible expulsion in a statement released after the incident.

“The safety of our students is always our first concern,” he said. “The school division will complete its investigation in cooperation with the police as we consider further disciplinary action, including expulsion. As always, we encourage direct communication from parents, including personal phone calls.”

-Derrick Perkins

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(39) Readers Comments

  1. Unbelievable. There had better be more to this story like threats or a history of criminal or crazy behavior. Otherwise, the city is over the edge.

    • Hi Dagny,

      In response to your point, we’re still waiting on an explanation for why authorities pressed criminal charges against the child. We will update the story as soon as we learn more from the police department.

      • My guess is that Mort Sherman is trying to make a name for himself by jumping on the current bandwagon.

  2. This is just disgusting.I hope the school board, the police, the district all gets to spend the nest 5 years in court. These people need slapped with common sense by way of monitary loss.

  3. The administrative actions here raise a number of questions which must be addressed by the school board? This incident reportedly occurred Monday afternoon with school officials being notified immediately after the incident. Why was there a lapse between school officials being notified Monday afternoon and police intervention Tuesday morning? Was there not a safety concern Monday afternoon and evening that this student could pose a danger to others or themselves with this reported weapon? Was there not a safety concern about the student riding the bus to school Tuesday morning? Was there not a concern that this student may pose a threat to others upon entering the school building? Why were police officers not sent to the students house when school officials notified them of the reported threat? Were the police made aware of this event only after the student had been allowed to enter the school Tuesday morning? After being made aware of the threat on Monday was the superintendent in contact with all parties involved to ensure the safety and well being of all students? This apparent administrative fumbling of a response after the events in Connecticut and recent events in Alabama is truly astounding.

    • it was a toy gun u itdeit he is a child if any thing the questions should be towards the parents
      that child is just an elementary student and some you should be in elementary school as well
      the child dont no right from wrong if hes not being taught, the child dont watch the news about
      gun lawsss but im shore his mother knew all about it ,so why gang on a small helpless child which
      dont no any better hes in his learnin stage his mother should be a shame of her self for not paying
      attention to her sons book bag,parents have to protect there children from the evil men which is the
      police officers ,some of them shouldt have guns as well as the little boy im not here to judge but arresting
      the child was a disgrace some people just dont have no common since i will be happy wen this world ends
      that poor child i feel so bad for him

  4. It looks like they knew it was a toy. If they had thought it was real they would have acted earlier.

  5. bran·dish (brndsh)
    tr.v. bran·dished, bran·dish·ing, bran·dish·es
    1. To wave or flourish (a weapon, for example) menacingly.
    2. To display ostentatiously. See Synonyms at flourish.
    n.
    A menacing or defiant wave or flourish.

    Simply showing a toy gun to his classmates on the bus is not “brandishing” it. And it seems it has the orange tip which is intended to make it clear that it is a toy. I can’t believe that he could be convicted, but then, they probably just want to scare him, which they undoubtedly have done. Very, very sad.

  6. The issue of school system reaction time is very different than the issue of arresting a 10 year old (without his parents present btw) and taking him to juvie for having a toy gun. I know this kid personally. He’s had some hard knocks in life and has been in trouble for fighting at school. But he is NOT a bad kid. By arresting and potentially suspending him we will have made a bad situation worse. And this kid may be forever lost. The next gun he “brandishes” just might be a real one. Bad choices and decisions on everyone’s part. Let the adults right their wrong before this goes even more horribly awry.

  7. I doubt that any gov’t officials and/or law enforcement will even read these comments. They’re probably too proud of themselves for arresting innocent children with completely harmless TOYS. School protection is good, but taking it to the limits like this one here is just too deep down the common sense that even a 5 year old would disagree with what they did here. Unbelievable…

  8. They “knew it was a toy” so they had the police arrive and take the student into custody the next day instead of contacting the child’s parent immediately upon learning of the alleged threat? Get out of here. The ball was dropped somewhere between this incident being reported to school officials and action being taken by the police. The Times should ask some serious questions to connect the dots in this incident. The thing was a toy this time, maybe next time we won’t be so lucky.

  9. I read this on another site regarding this situation, and it makes a lot of sense:

    “If the child were criminally charged under Virginia Code § 18.2-282, this will not last long in court. That law provides that it is illegal to brandish a “firearm, air or gas operated weapon or object similar in appearance.” It is obviously meant for criminal using a real weapon and then claiming it was unloaded. TO remove any doubt, it then says “the word “firearm” means any weapon that will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel single or multiple projectiles by the action of an explosion of a combustible material.” Clearly, the law applies to unloaded REAL weapons, not a child’s toy.

    One really hopes there is alot more to this story cause it sure looks like foolishness. If that is the law they used (and it looks like it was), a lot of people are going to be greatly embarrassed.”

    From what Dreb says, we are about to be the butte of a lot of jokes throughout the country, and have put an at risk child at even higher risk.

  10. Absurd. But not surprising. And, no, I do not think that there is “more to this story”. So often there is no more to the story then overzealous, arrogant school administrators who bully children and blow this ridiculousness out of proportion… all the while turning some family’s life upside and distroying a child’s life. “Safety is our first concern”. Laughable.

    We need to get control of the out of control, counterproductive, ineffective zero tolerance practices in our schools that do much more harm then good. Arrested, suspended from school, and possibly expelled! Then what??? We create another criminal. Nice work Alexandria.

  11. Unbelievable. I am stunned by the actions of the police. If we have all the facts, it’s beyond ridiculous that the child was charged with brandishing. We have only ourselves to blame for not demanding the resignation of the police chief, the DA, and any other official involved with these actions. It is only going to get worse. This country is turning into a police state. It’s both the republicans and the democrats fault. But most of all, it’s our own fault. As long as we are fat and happy, we don’t care about anything else. Shame on us. Shame on all of us!

  12. Its federal law that all toy gun tips be colored orange or red! They should have just checked the kid out and told him to leave his toys at home, end of story!! Now your state,police,school district ECT look like fools! Great job traumatizing yet another young child! Idiots!!

  13. You need to read the full article. The contact info the family had provided with the child’s registration was erroneous, they could not locate the child nor the family. Also, the child did not ride the bus tuesday morning so they could not intercept him until he arrived at school Tuesday a.m.

    • It doesn’t take too much effort to contact the school bus driver and ask where the child is dropped off. That’s the starting point. Then you ask one of the other kidsf or whom you do have a proper address and are dropped off there where he lives. Oh, but that might take a bit of police work. AND if the officers didn’t contact the family, they wouldn’t know the child wouldn’t be riding the bus to school the next day.

      I read the article, noted the part on contact info and still think if they thought the child was dangerous, they would have found him.

      • At that point though, all the kids were at home and there was no imminent danger – even if they were still thinking it was a real weapon. Was there any reason for school officials to go hunt the kid down right that second? Again, there was no danger posed until the next morning, which is when they handled the situation.

        I think the school acted responsibly and well up until the point where they had a 10 year old arrested for breaking a minor rule! Have our schools lost all sense of how to discipline children that the only recourse is police? What happened to detentions? What about assigning the child an essay where he has to research kids who’ve been accidently shot by firearms? What about making him apologize to the class? All of these things would have been better solutions than the one the school taught.

  14. Well that explains why Johnny can’t read. Look at the nit wits who teach him. In my day every boy in the school would have been suspended and arrested for playing cowboys and Indians (oops) I mean Cowboys and Native Americans. This simply displays why the current establishment lacks wisdom and common sense.

    I hope the child’s parents sue the Alexandria school system and wake someone up there. Any of you lawyers who want to do a good deed pro bono should take this case. The child should be completely exonerated for being charged with a misdemeanor and get compensated for the state terrorism he experienced.

    Step it up lawyers. Don’t go along with the governmentacademicmedialegalindustrial complex.

  15. I sent Email to the morons at the school district and they sent a citation of Virginia law.

    Hey !!! The passage of dumb laws and failings of the legislative processes in Virginia
    are not other peoples’ problem.

    AND the morons at the school district refuse to affix their names to Emails. That is especially
    despicable, public employees hiding….

  16. (Whiny voice) “But…. but IF IT SAVES ONLY ONE CHILD!”

    From a TOY GUN. This is not mere silliness or wrong-headedness. WE ARE BEING CONDITIONED.

  17. I called ACPS directly today and told them how angry I was at their over-reaction to a toy gun. I also told them I hope legal action is taken against the school system. And yes, the psychological damage has been done. I also called other Alexandria residents and told them to call ACPS.

  18. This is not the first time it’s happened in ACPS. Many students at Hammond middle school have brought real weapons and BB guns in the past year. Another student set a fire in the back of a classroom. Why aren’t these being brought up??

  19. The central focus of this discussion and reporting should be the response by school administration following a report that a gun was shown by one student to other students on an ACPS school bus. Many things about this lack of appropriate response should have the public questioning ACPS’ ability to handle potentially dangerous situations. It is troubling that 15 hours elapsed before: 1) contact was made with the student 2) law enforcement responded 3) the gun was determined to be a toy 4) concerned parents were notified. The facts remain that a student who was reportedly carrying a gun was allowed to continue to ride the school bus, was not spoken to by any school or law enforcement officials before Tuesday morning, and was allowed to return to school property while still in the possession of the described gun. All of this before it had been verified that the gun was indeed a toy. The facts show that, despite statements in the press release issued by the superintendent, ACPS did not respond immediately. Had the response been truly immediate then contact would have been made with the student before they exited the bus or soon thereafter. That sort of actual immediate response could have eased many fears (both those of parents and students) and may have resulted in a consequence which did not involve law enforcement taking this child into custody at the school. If a call from a parent reporting a gun doesn’t invoke immediate and appropriate response, what will in ACPS?

    • Really Edmund? What the hell are you talking about? Toy gun. No criminal act. Kid games. Simple. No story.

      No more idiots like yourself to ANALIZE nature and try to social engineer utopia.

      • Your response, while rude and inappropriate, is based on the flawed rationale that the end justifies the means. Under your logic because the gun turned out to be a toy then the lapse in response between the reporting of this incident and the determination that the gun was a toy is acceptable. Any parent, teacher, citizen, or school administrator who has been paying attention to events in our society for the past 20 years would say that this response was inadequate. ACPS basically was presented with a dry run on how to appropriately respond to a potential threat and they failed miserably.

      • Ugh. Exactly Jake. This type of hysteria will get some kid with a Hello Kitty bubble blower shot one day. The school should have discussed the issue with the child/parent and kept the police out of it.

  20. The issue here is the administrative response before the gun in question was determined to be a toy. It is pretty straightforward. There was a concern raised by a parent about a gun being displayed on a school bus. This concern was not addressed until 15 hours later when the boy returned to school with the same gun in his possession and then it was determined that it was indeed a toy. There is something wrong when a parent contacts school administrators and it takes 15 hours to address their safety concern. There is something wrong with the fact that for 15 hours there was no contact with police, concerned parents, or this child to determine if this gun was real or a toy. There is also something wrong with the fact that after those 15 hours a 10 year old child was arrested for possessing a toy. Proper responses can prevent simple acts like a kid having a toy gun from turning into an arrest and can also prevent dangerous situations such as Monday’s incident in Henrico County. No engineering degree needed to understand common sense.

  21. This is just a sophisticated form of child abuse. You people in Alexandria should be ashamed of yourself. You should have these people recalled or fired immediately.

  22. The charge is “brandishing a weapon” but the incident does not meet the Virginia code definition of “brandishing” nor of “weapon”.

    This War on Children must stop. The precedent being established here must be crushed. Officials need to admit they have made a huge mistake and apologize, then pray that our tax dollars will not be lost in a lawsuit.

    Mr. Perkins — Please keep up the pressure on this story and get to the bottom of it. Officials are claiming there is ‘more to the story’ and it’s ‘complex’ — but if the kid has done other things wrong, then they should address those specific problems. But they shouldn’t make a criminal case out of a toy gun. If this is allowed to stand, then a plastic light saber will put your kid in jail. Please realize how serious this is and make your voice heard.

    Readers — Please call and express your concern.
    Police: 703-838-444 or 703-746-6600
    Superintendent: 703-824-6610
    Mayor’s Office: 703-746-4500

    • Correct, Linda. The charges are bogus to the point of frivolous. Sengel knows it and will now do what is necessary to protect the police from their own ineptitude. And having acted stupidly, the government will close ranks and squeeze this poor kid and his family to cover up their own idiocy.

  23. The police response is disturbing; their response in this matter is ‘pretty standard”????? Are they really saying they normally arrest and book 10 year olds, and THEN notify their parents/guardians? Did they do that so the parent.guardian was not present during questioning? Are we that weak and timid that we allow the police to bully our children like this? Who the bleep do they think they are?

    Mr. Perkins, a FOIA request to ACPS to see what in the world was going on and who put pressure on whom to do what would be illuminating, to say hte least.

  24. “We know the student well, we know the family well.” Those were the exact words of the superintendent this evening when referring to the student who was arrested. This statement before the board goes directly against the statement given to the public by ACPS. Explaing why the school district did not make contact with the student after the report of a gun on a school bus the ACPS spokeswoman stated that the “contact information (the family) provided to the district was erroneous.” So which is it? Does ACPS “know the family well” or does ACPS have no way of contacting them? Again, the descrepancies here and the way this was handled between the time the incident was brought to the attention of school officials and the time the police arrested this child on school grounds deserve to be thoroughly examined by local press, citizens, and the school board. The superintendent and others should be ashamed and rightfully challenged as to why they allowed the events in this case to unfold in a way which led to this child’s arrest.

  25. I just had to comment from Canada.

    Holy Crap.

    THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS!

    What’s wrong with public officials? They’ve gone full blown irrational!

  26. Also from Canada.

    I thought only the Soviets used to arrest children.

  27. This brainwashing is nation-wide and is getting worse. –> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIcSLhGvaTE

  28. Another case of “Educated” people doing idiotic things, it’s becoming the norm now days.

  29. I hope someone helps this boy and protects him from those Police who sound crazy. Jesus help!

  30. I have to agree… It’s extreme punishment!!! Not to mention it’s a Toy!! Seriously… Why would any school want to ruin a students life by denying them a education by expelling for a toy gun… Wow!!! That’s just outrageous!!

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