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Two students arrested after gun scare at Polk County high school

One of the students told the School Resource Officer he brought the airsoft guns to school to play tag with friends.
Alexander Rivera (left) and Benjamin Chebani (right) were arrested Wednesday morning for bringing airsoft guns to Ridge Community High School in Haines City. [Haines City Police Department]
Alexander Rivera (left) and Benjamin Chebani (right) were arrested Wednesday morning for bringing airsoft guns to Ridge Community High School in Haines City. [Haines City Police Department]
Published Nov. 1
Updated Nov. 1

Two students were arrested Wednesday morning after police received multiple reports of armed individuals at Ridge Community High School in Polk County.

According to arrest affidavits, School Resource Officer David Heptinstal was called to the gymnasium at 11:20 a.m., after a student reported seeing a gun. The student told Heptinstall where the incident occurred and provided a description of the suspect. A teacher in that same building also reported seeing a gun.

The school was placed on heightened security.

While speaking with Heptinstall, the teacher pointed toward a student in the school courtyard. Benjamin Chebani, 17, was detained and escorted to the dean’s office. Heptinstall discovered two Sig Sauer replica airsoft pistols while searching Chebani’s backpack.

According to the affidavits, Chebani told Heptinstall he brought the guns to school to play airsoft tag with his friends. He said he handed one of the guns to 17-year-old Alexander Rivera in a stairwell, and the two played tag until the guns were out of ammunition.

Heptinstall then detained Rivera in a classroom.

Rivera told police he descended a set of stairs before handing the gun back to Chebani out of fear of getting caught.

Airsoft guns are addressed directly in the July 2018 edition of Polk County’s Student Code of Conduct. The guns, which can be electric-, gas- or spring-powered, are marketed as harmless toys but classified as “dangerous objects” by the school system.

Chapter 5, Section C of the code of conduct outlines two ranges of penalties for possession of dangerous objects depending on intent to harm. The maximum penalty listed for possession of an airsoft gun is expulsion. It’s unclear why the students are being charged with a crime.

Chapter 5, Section C of the Polk County Schools' student code of conduct defines an Airsoft gun as a dangerous object and recommends two categories of penalties based on intent to harm. Referral to the criminal justice system is not listed as a penalty. [Polk County Public Schools]

Chebani and Rivera were transported to a juvenile assessment center and charged with possession of a weapon on school property, a third-degree felony, and a misdemeanor charge of disrupting a school function.

After their arrest, police discovered that both students were on probation, Chebani for committing a lewd and lascivious act, Rivera for trespassing and resisting arrest. The duo received an additional charge for violating the terms of their probation.

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