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Pupil's action earns him citizen award

(ran PC edition of PASCO TIMES)

Zephyrhills police will present the fourth-grader with a citizen award for turning in a student with a loaded handgun.

Last week, Tommy "T.J." Cooner, a fourth-grader at West Zephyrhills Elementary, saw a gun at school and knew what he had to do.

Tommy's parents had raised the 10-year-old to respect guns _ and to stay away from them until he is older. Tommy, his mother said, saw news reports last year of the Columbine High massacre and understood what can happen when kids bring guns to school.

"He knew all about what happened at Columbine," said Kim Cooner, 38. "He felt really sad about it."

So when another student showed him a loaded .357-caliber Magnum handgun last Wednesday, Tommy wasted no time. As students marched outside for a fire drill, Tommy told his teacher about the gun on campus. The teacher hurried inside and found the gun inside the fifth-grader's duffle bag.

This afternoon, police will recognize Tommy's actions in a ceremony that will be broadcast via closed circuit TV to every classroom in the elementary school. As students watch, Zephyrhills police Chief Robert Howell will present Tommy a Citizen Appreciation Award _ along with a $50 savings bond donated by SunTrust Bank.

"Because of what he did, he could have prevented a tragedy from happening," said Zephyrhills police Officer Mike Counsell, who went to the school after learning about the gun.

But Counsell said there's another reason police want to reward Tommy. By recognizing the boy's actions, Counsell said, police hope other children will learn a valuable lesson about gun safety.

"We want other students to see that you get rewarded by doing the right thing," Counsell said.

The 11-year-old student, whose name the Times is withholding because of his age, was arrested for possession of a weapon on school property. Police say the boy intended no harm and was only trying to impress friends.

The boy got the gun from his father, police said. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is investigating the case to determine whether the boy's father should be charged for giving a minor access to a loaded firearm.

Kim Cooner said her son has been feeling guilty about turning in his friend.

"He thinks it was his fault, like he got the boy into trouble," Kim Cooner said. "But we've told him he did the right thing and we're very proud of him."

Tommy, his mother said, "loves to go to school" and is "very protective of younger kids."

Kim Cooner said her husband owns a gun and he has drilled Tommy about gun safety.

"It was a terrific thing that my son did," Kim Cooner said. "I am just speechless."