GIBSONTON — East Bay High School went on lockdown for nearly four hours Tuesday as deputies scoured the campus for weapons.
By 11:30 a.m., they had confiscated two handguns and detained two 15-year-old boys.
The search for more weapons continued. Deputies looked in classrooms and opened lockers. Lunch was put on hold. Worried parents waited outside, unable to take their teens home.
Finally, at 1:30 p.m., the lockdown was lifted.
Deputies were investigating claims that the students brought the unloaded handguns and ammunition to campus because of a dispute over a girl. School officials don't believe the students planned violence. It appears they brought the guns for protection from unnamed others.
"It's still a felony to bring a gun on campus," school district spokesman Stephen Hegarty noted.
The St. Petersburg Times did not publish the boys' names because they were charged as juveniles and no prior records appear for them in the state crime database.
The two freshmen were held on charges of carrying a concealed firearm, possession of a weapon on school property and possession of a firearm with an altered serial number.
One boy's father teared up as he talked about his son. A daughter translated his statements from Spanish:
"I didn't think he would do something like that. I want to ask him: 'Why?' " the father said. "Why would he get a gun, and why would he have it during school? What he did was bad."
The other boy's parents declined to talk to a reporter other than to say that, as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, they had not heard from their son.
The search started with a tip Monday evening, Hegarty said. The initial report was that a student was going to bring a gun to school to sell to another student.
By the end of third period Tuesday, deputies determined that a gun might be on campus, Hegarty said.
"I wasn't scared, and no one was really scared," senior Lenora Ojada said. "Everyone was just really frustrated. It's been a very long day."
Parents lined Big Bend Road in front of the school. Only one deputy was there to talk to them, and he couldn't reach everyone fast enough to stop the spread of rumors.
Linda Rodriguez said she drove an hour and half from work as soon as she heard about the lockdown. She wanted to pick up her son, sophomore Carlos Magana.
"I was driving 100 miles an hour trying to get here," she said.
Several East Bay students who know the teens who were arrested said Tuesday's events surprised them.
"They're cool. I wouldn't expect them to bring a gun to school," said freshman Joshua Green. "That's mad stupid."
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.