by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….
“No, I don’t believe it was a toy,“ says our source [Let’s call her “B”], “It was the real thing and when the other kids reported that this student had brought a gun to HOB middle school, the student responded by sending a Snapchat photo to one of them: him with a gun and the message, ‘[I’m] gonna bust a cap in yah head.’” More recently he reportedly said (paraphrasing): ‘This ain’t over. I’m gonna shoot yah.’
Did this really happen?
According to KWPD spokesperson, Alyson Crean, the resource officer at the school did investigate and saw a screen grab of the Snapchat message showing that very student with a gun – captured before it disappeared (Snapchat messages are erased after 10 seconds). However, Crean said, “It is not illegal to take a photo holding a gun.” No police report documenting the incident was filed and the photo (which we have but are not going to publish) was not copied by the officer and kept for the record.
One wonders whether “taking a photo holding a gun” is the same as sending a photo to a school nemesis who is meant to look down the barrel of a gun and read the underlying message, “[I’m] gonna bust a cap in yah head.”
“B” tells us the more recent threat specified that the shooting would happen at an after-school event. “There are probably a half-dozen teachers right now, who know about this and are terrified and they cannot believe the school administration is not doing anything about it.”
Respecting student privacy while investigating such a highly alarming story is a challenge and a half. When we began asking questions the story immediately split into multiple directions; all of them bad.
“The gun was a painted-over toy gun,” said another credible source who knows the father of the student. (We are not going to tell you the father’s name, but he is a member of one of Key West’s older families.)
But why would an 8th grader want to bring a toy gun to school?
On Feb 1st, a 12-year-old student in a Los Angeles middle school brought a gun to school that she and her friends said they believed was a toy. The gun fired accidentally, a bullet hit a boy in the head.
“At this point,” says “B”, “I don’t care if the gun was a toy gun or not. The gun should not have been there. This should have been used as an opportunity to make this absolutely clear. And what if the threat is real? Columbine is what immediately pops into my mind. Isn’t it what is always said after it’s too late: ‘We noticed this and that, but nobody did anything’?”
Now we have to mention the mother of the student. She works at HOB middle school. The fact was mentioned as one of the possible reasons for the school’s lack of reaction. “B” says, “I think they mostly are afraid of the bad publicity.”
We were able to verify that in another instance the mix of Snapchat, guns and students enrolled in the Monroe County school system was taken very seriously. Last April two Key West High students, while at a theater rehearsing a play, sent a Snapchat “selfie” of themselves holding prop guns to fellow students. One student screen-grabbed the photo and added a message: “No one go to school on Monday” and the new image began circulating among students.
The police went to the theater to check on all the props. They also went to all of the involved students’ homes to see whether they had any access to any real guns. When the investigation was complete the public was made aware of the details and assured that no risk existed.
Yet “B” says that in the present case a number of teachers report, “wondering before each school event whether this is going to be “it”. Yet nothing has been done.”
We emailed the School District spokesperson, Karen Hladik and the HOB school principal, Christina McPherson, hoping to gain an understanding of the school’s policies regarding evaluation of and assistance to red-flagged students as well as policies regarding the protection of the overall school population. As of press time we’ve not received a response. [Stay tuned.]
Other people we interviewed have an even more disturbing view of the situation. According to educator, Mike Mongo, this particular student was only trying to fit in in a gun subculture that has spread among kids in the Keys.
“It’s not only Snapchat. It’s Instagram,” says Mongo. ”The kids have hashtag code words they use and in Key West they open onto lots of kids with guns. The kids are having this private conversation. Instagram is a horror show. The parents don’t have a clue because the kids message each other using super contemporary slang as hashtags. And you don’t want to go there. It’s not suitable for adults. Go to Instagram and follow a hashtag like #fidgetspinner. It’s a rabbit hole.”
One hopes that those in charge of education, and especially those in charge of assisting kids that show troubling signs of distress, are capable of navigating these new frontiers. School Board members, who lately seem entirely absorbed in playing real-estate with their powerful friends, should concentrate on creating the goals and policies that will assist in rescuing the children at risk of getting lost, while protecting the lives and aspirations of all those that have been placed under their care.
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