Two Baltimore County boys traded a Bersa .380-caliber gun for an Xbox 360 in a swap that ended when officers found a handful of bullets in jeans left in a school locker room, police said Friday.
The exchange between the 12-year-old students at Deer Park Middle Magnet is the third gun-related incident in county schools since the academic year started in late August, including a shooting at Perry Hall High School that left one student seriously injured.
The recent gun violence — and the extent to which Baltimore County students have had access to weapons — has unnerved many in the school community. One Deer Park parent said Friday that the incidents have left her "scared to death" for her children's safety.
Christel McCormick said she was apprehensive as she walked her seventh-grader home after the school in Randallstown let out Friday. She said the bullet incident came a day after the school had a bomb threat.
"It's gotten to the point where I'm ready to pull my child out," said McCormick, who also has a child who attends New Town High School in Owings Mills. "They need metal detectors in all schools."
Meanwhile on Friday, Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced that the county would distribute free gun locks to residents in response to the gun incidents.
"We have an obligation to be proactive," Johnson said at a news conference at the county's Franklin precinct in Reisterstown. "We know [the locks] work, and they're very, very effective. … They'll go a long way in making our community a safer place."
At Deer Park Middle, a school resource officer, acting on a report by a student, found six bullets about 9:45 a.m. Thursday in the pockets of a pair of pants left on a bench in the gym locker room. The boys were charged as juveniles with various handgun-related violations, police said.
Police do not identify children charged as juveniles with crimes.
Police said they have no indication that the boys planned to harm students or staff at their school.
The gun was legally registered to a man who lives with the boy who traded the gun for the Xbox. The boy brought the gun to the second boy's home, where police found it in the backyard Thursday.
No charges have been filed against the man who owns the gun, police said. The gun was locked and not operational with the lock in place, but the weapon wasn't kept in a secure place, according to authorities.
County residents who own guns can get up to three locks each by visiting any police precinct or the Public Safety Building in Towson. The Baltimore County Police Foundation donated $4,700 to help the county buy 2,000 locks that work with most handguns and long guns.
Johnson has emphasized the importance of securing guns as the county has dealt with the incidents. Maryland law requires that gun owners secure loaded firearms from children 15 and younger, but Johnson said the department would continue to urge residents to lock up unloaded guns as well, even though the law doesn't require it.
Gun owners must show proof that they are county residents to get a lock. When they visit the police, an officer will demonstrate how to use the lock.
"This has been a very difficult start of a school year," Kamenetz said of the incidents.
Kamenetz said the cases were not about gun owners being "simply careless."
"They were caused by owners who were being idiotic," he said.
In a September incident at Stemmers Run Middle School in Essex, a 13-year-old boy brought a loaded handgun to school, which he used to threaten his teacher and classmates. No one was injured.
The boy's grandfather was charged with a gun violation because the weapon was unsecured. The law did not apply to the Perry Hall case because the suspect's father's shotgun was unloaded, Johnson wrote in a blog post on the county website Friday.
Robert W. Gladden Jr., 15, was charged as an adult for opening fire in the Perry Hall High cafeteria on the first day of school. He is accused of shooting Daniel Borowy, 17, in the back. Borowy spent about two weeks in the hospital recovering. School staffers including Jesse Wasmer, a guidance counselor, were credited with restraining Gladden.
Baltimore County schools spokesman Charles Herndon said students were not in any immediate danger in the Deer Park incident. Herndon noted that the situation came to light when a student alerted school officials that the boy had ammunition with him.
"It serves as a reminder, not only for Deer Park, that we need to be vigilant," Herndon said. "We need to be aware. We need to let people know what we see and what we hear."
The school's principal alerted parents to the situation with an automated voice mail message sent about 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Herndon said. The two boys involved also face disciplinary action at the school, he said.
After the series of gun-related incidents, Baltimore County officials outlined several steps they will take to increase efforts to protect students. Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance earlier this week appointed a new school safety chief.
Additionally, the county police have plans to purchase hand-held metal detectors that will be issued to the district's 60 school resource officers. They will be used only when police have probable cause that a crime could occur.
School safety, Herndon said, "is a priority for the school system."
Friday was a normal instructional day at Deer Park, where more than 1,200 students are enrolled. Deer Park is a magnet school that offers academic concentrations in earth science, mass communication, performing arts, Spanish and visual arts.
As the school day ended, parents were mixed in gauging the seriousness of the incident, and what measures should be taken on school safety.
"It's a very serious situation given all the things that have been going on, but I don't know what they can do short of metal detectors," said Tev Hatcher, the mother of a seventh-grader. "I think it's more unfortunate that kids can get their hands on that kind of stuff and bring it to school."
Yvonne Griffin, whose two grandchildren attend the school, said the incident seemed like a "fluke."
"I feel confident that they're doing what they can and they're pretty on top of the conduct of the students, so that makes me less apprehensive," Griffin said.
Robert McCormick, husband of Christel McCormick, said that parents of students who bring weapons to school should also face harsh penalties — such as fines and jail time.
"What they need to do is hit the parents in the pocket, because if you don't, they won't do anything," he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Erica L. Green contributed to this article.
An earlier version of this article said the school system will be paying to issue hand-held metal detectors to school resource officers. In fact, this is a county police initiative. The county police will provide the wands to school resource officers and train them in their use. The Sun regrets the error.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times