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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 2, 2004

6th-grader brings gun to school

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

LIHU'E, Kaua'i — Four Kapa'a Middle School sixth-graders have been suspended after one of them brought an unloaded automatic handgun to school on Wednesday and passed it around to the others.

The child who brought the weapon was given a one-year suspension; the remaining students were immediately placed on a 10-day suspension pending investigation of the case. Officials said the school penalties may be adjusted after a review of their cases.

Meanwhile, the county prosecuting attorney is considering criminal charges for improper handling of a firearm.

"That's something we would normally prosecute under the 'place to keep' law," said Deputy Prosecutor Craig De Costa.

In a letter sent home Thursday to parents, Kapa'a Principal Mary Ann Bode said that a student brought an unloaded .22-caliber automatic handgun to school, allowing three other students to hold it for him at various points during the school day. A fifth student reported the situation to security personnel.

"Once security and administration were made aware of the situation, within 15 minutes of the investigation, we had the weapon, the students and (the Kaua'i Police Department) on hand to resolve the issue," Bode said in the letter.

She said the gun was never used to threaten anyone. It was not clear who owned the weapon or whether it was properly registered.

"It was brought to show. It is unfortunate that 'Student A' made a wrong choice to bring the item in question to show others, and it is unfortunate that other students felt the need to hold it," she said.

Danny Hamada, who oversees Kaua'i public schools as complex area superintendent, said the case is being handled under the guidelines of state Department of Education policies and under those of the federal Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, which authorizes a one-year suspension.

After a local determination is made, the case will automatically be brought to the attention of state schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto for review, he said.

During the 2002-2003 year, 42 public school students were involved in 26 incidents involving firearms or explosives. Air-powered pellet or BB guns represent the majority of cases. There were incidents in each of the state's seven school districts. Bode said this is the only case at Kapa'a Middle School this school year, but not the first ever.

Students suspended for breaking firearm regulations continue receiving instruction under special arrangements.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.