Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Boy, 11, takes marijuana to school

Minutes before the first bell rang at Gorrie Elementary School on Wednesday morning, an 11-year-old boy played an unusual game of show-and-tell with a classmate.

As they stood in the hallway, the fifth-grader pulled from the pocket of his jeans a bag filled with 16 grams of marijuana, officials later said.

"He was like, "Hey, look what I have,' " said Tampa police spokesman Joe Durkin.

The classmate quickly told assistant principal Kristin Tonelli.

Thirty minutes later, the boy was arrested, charged with misdemeanor possession and whisked away to the Juvenile Assessment Center. His name was not released by authorities.

Durkin said the boy later told investigators he brought the marijuana from home.

"Whose it was is still to be determined," Durkin said.

The arrest shocked school officials and parents alike at Gorrie, a popular South Tampa school known for its high student achievement and parental involvement. In 1999, the Department of Education named Gorrie a National Blue Ribbon School.

Wednesday's arrest wasn't unprecedented. Last year, two elementary school students were caught with drugs, compared with 48 middle schoolers and 74 high school students, according to district officials. In 1993, in a case that made national headlines, six fourth-graders were charged with bringing cocaine to Dale Mabry Elementary School.

"It's unusual for an elementary-age child to be in possession," said school district spokesman Mark Hart. "It does happen, unfortunately."

Gorrie parents said they see the arrest as a singular incident.

"I'm not panicked," said parent Kathy Bohan. "I'm kind of surprised more than anything."

Pamela Eliopulos, whose daughter is in fifth grade at Gorrie, applauded both the student who turned in her classmate

and administrators for acting quickly. She views the arrest as a wake-up call about drug use in Tampa.

"It's disconcerting, certainly," she said. "Is our elementary a hot bed of drug activity? I seriously doubt it."

It's not the first time a student has reported a crime involving another student in a Hillsborough school. In November, a Sligh Middle School student told an administrator about a boy who brought a .25-caliber handgun to school. Two boys were later arrested.

Gorrie principal Susan Foster said Wednesday that she too is grateful the boy's classmate came forward instead of keeping the marijuana a secret.

"We spend a lot of time talking to students about making the right choices," Foster said. "It's very rewarding to know we're being listened to."

Foster sent letters home to parents telling them there is no evidence the student, who was suspended for 10 days, gave the marijuana to any of his classmates.

What's next?

+ The boy will serve a 10-day suspension.

+ Officials will recommend that the boy be transferred out of Gorrie Elementary School and into an alternative education program, a school district spokesman said.

+ The case will be reported to the Department of Children and Families.