On Friday, February 17th, a teacher found a loaded handgun in the tote bag of a 5-year-old student at the Principia Lower School. No other students were present at the time. The teacher immediately took the bag and the firearm within, and informed school administrators and the Town & Country Police Department. Matthew Brill, head of security at the Principia School said when the gun was discovered, it was loaded with a magazine, but the chamber was empty. Brill ensured that the handgun was secured in a safe location before the police arrived.
“At approximately 8:45 AM, the Town & Country Police Department responded to a 9-1-1 call from The Principia Lower School for a student who had brought a gun onto campus,” Police Chief of Town and Country, James Cavins, told The Pilot.
“Because of the swift actions of the staff member, no one was at risk,” Cavins said. Both Brill and Cavins note the quick response the school had to the incident. The student, who has now been indefinitely suspended, was immediately sent home. Brill maintains that safety for all students, faculty, and the community was his first priority. He says that the initial “knee-jerk”’ reaction from the school administration was to reinforce this feeling across the campus.
“As of today’s date, February 21st, we continue to work closely with the Principia administration and the Division of Family Services to support the Principia community and the student’s family,” Police Chief Cavins said. “The parents of the student have fully cooperated and our investigation has led us to feel confident that this was an inadvertent incident with no intentions on either the part of the parents nor the student. We believe that the student had no clue that the gun was in the tote bag.”
“We are not doing bag checks, but it is something we have thought about,” Brill said. “Down the road we might change that.”
For Brill, the safety of the community is at the heart of all future plans. “Student safety always has, and always will be our first priority,” he said.
This incident, although more minor, fits into a much larger national trend and for some Principia College students, that manifests personally. Sophomore Ruth Hummell, grew up in Michigan, and spent much of last week worrying about the safety of her friends at Michigan State University, where 3 people were killed in a mass shooting on campus. Just three days later, she heard about the incident at the Lower School.
“[Hearing about the Lower School incident] was terrifying…” Hummell said, “It had just happened [at MSU.]”
Senior Ari Hofman vividly remembers their mom, a school teacher, calling them last month and telling them about a school shooting that had just taken place in their county in Virginia where a 6-year-old brought a gun to school and shot his teacher in their classroom.
“It was the same school district and the same grade she teaches–it so easily could have been her,” Hofman said, “My dad just retired from the military. I shouldn’t still be worrying about a parent getting shot at work.”
A college senior who wished to remain anonymous told The Pilot “There was that story recently about the 6-year-old who shot his teacher and while it was a horrifying story to read, it didn’t feel real because it wasn’t my school. We almost had the exact same thing happen at Prin.”
“It feels scary because it now feels personal,” she said, “it definitely makes me want Missouri to start rethinking some of their gun laws and restrictions because it concerns me that something like this can happen with a 5-year-old.”
Last week a mother was charged in Norfolk, Virginia after a school caught her 6-year-old child with a gun. Other incidents, including in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, parents have been charged for their children bringing guns to school. The charges range from endangering the welfare of a child to reckless endangerment.
“At this point, we don’t believe that there will be any criminal charges on the parents,” said Cavins.
Parents and members of the community have been invited to a town hall on February 23rd where school officials are hoping to answer questions and share their steps moving forward.