BROOKSVILLE — Five Hernando High School students are facing felony charges after one of them brought a stolen gun to sell on campus only to have it stolen from him by other students.
The Thursday morning incident prompted a two-hour lockdown at Hernando High and surrounding schools. At a news conference Friday, the Hernando County sheriff and school superintendent provided details about what happened.
“We never want to face these issues, but when we do, it’s nice to know that we are prepared to react,” Superintendent John Stratton said. “We will seek expulsion for those students.”
The Tampa Bay Times is not identfying the students because of their ages.
It all started when a 15-year-old boy stole a Ruger 9mm handgun from a relative and brought it on a school bus, Sheriff Al Nienhuis said. He told a 16-year-old student that he planned to sell the gun at school and asked him to hold it.
The 16-year-old hid the gun in his backpack and brought it into school, Nienhuis said.
The 15-year-old then called a third student, who is 17, about buying the gun, and they agreed to meet in a school bathroom. Two more students, both 17, came with the other 17-year-old to meet the first two students.
Bill Pope, Hernando High’s school resource deputy, received a tip at about 8:45 a.m. from a parent who had heard from a student about a gun on campus. The campus was placed on lockdown.
Before they reached the bathroom, the first 17-year-old told one of the others that he planned to steal the gun, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Inside the bathroom, he asked to see the gun and racked the slide a few times. The three 17-year-olds then ran out, left the building and headed toward the gym, the Sheriff’s Office said. The 15-year-old tried to chase them but lost sight of them.
The teen who had made off with the gun took it to a relative’s house and hid it under a mattress, Nienhuis said.
By 8:50 a.m., at least seven Sheriff’s Office units had arrived on campus, increasing to 22 within the next 20 minutes.
Deputies found the other two 17-year-olds on campus at 8:56 a.m. on campus and took them into custody to question them, the Sheriff’s Office said. Later, the 15-year-old and 16-year-old were taken into custody.
Finally, at 9:36 a.m., deputies found the boy who made off with the gun. He was still at his relative’s house. The gun did not appear to be loaded. Deputies also found two other guns and a BB gun there.
“It doesn’t appear in hindsight that they intended on doing anything that particular day, but of course, we have no idea what their intent was in the future,” Nienhuis said.
“It’s frustrating. Kids are going to do things that are not the brightest and this is an example of that.”
The State Attorney’s Office will decide whether the teens are charged as adults, Nienhuis said. If so, they each face up to five years in prison on third-degree felony charges.
The two 17-year-olds accompanying the teen who made off with the gun have had run-ins with the law before. One was arrested on a felony charge of issuing a written threat to kill, and the other had a robbery arrest, a nonviolent arrest and was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The 15-year-old also had two prior non-violent felonies.
The Sheriff’s Office said parents of the students arrested have been cooperating with authorities.
On Thursday, some parents expressed concerns about safety on campus. Superintendent Stratton said the school district and the Sheriff’s Office are considering steps to ensure campus safety.
These include securing perimeters around campus, bringing in metal detectors and establishing a student safety group. Hernando High already has a care team and staff is monitoring students who may have felt traumatized by the incident, Stratton said.
“If it were not for the parents involved or the students involved, we certainly would not be where we are in the investigation," Nienhuis said, "and we certainly would not be able to prevent something bad in the future happening with those guns.”