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Students Face Expulsion for Weapons

Police arrest three for concealed weapons on school grounds.

Fairfax County police arrested three students last week after finding BB guns, metal pipes and clubs in lockers at Herndon High School, according to police.

"A teacher overheard some students talking about other students having weapons in their locker," said Capt. Mike Vencak, supervisor of the Reston Substation. "The teacher immediately ran the information to their SRO [School Resource Officer], which is exactly what should happen. At no time was any student in danger."

School Security Personnel and the Fairfax County Police School Resource Officer were notified and began an immediate investigation, police said. The event happened shortly after 1 p.m., Tuesday, April 29, according to a police spokeswoman.

After several interviews, one 16-year-old Herndon-area boy and one 16-year-old Reston-area boy were caught with BB guns in their possession, police said. Later, a 15-year-old Herndon-area boy was caught with a metal pipe in his possession.

Three of the four students involved were charged on with possession of a concealed weapon on school grounds.

All three boys were released to their parents pending a juvenile court hearing. Because all of the boys were minors, police did not release their names.

In all, four students were recommended for expulsion, said Lisa Lombardozzi, the school’s PTSA president.

After an initial investigation, police found one BB gun in a school locker and another one "on person," Vencak said. The investigation also turned up metal pipes and clubs in the locker of another student, Vencak said. The pipes, Vencak stressed, did not appear to be used as materials for bombs, but rather as "clubbing" devices.

"Right now, it’s our understanding that one kid wanted to buy one or both of the guns to use strictly for BB gun purposes," Vencak said. "Our understanding is that the buyer wanted to buy the gun strictly as a safety precaution."

Because the students are minors, principal Jan Leslie declined to comment extensively on the story. "It was dealt with as a disciplinary issue," Leslie said. "At no time were the students in any danger."

<b>THE FOUR STUDENTS</b>, some of whom are said to be freshman, are in the words of Vencak, "related by friendships, not by blood." While Vencak said there may be "possible gang affiliation" with some or all of the students he said, at this point, the incident did not look, despite rumors to the contrary, to be a thwarted plan between rival gangs. "Whatever the case, we have gang units looking at it very seriously."

Liz Adams, a freshman at Herndon, is a close friend of one of the students caught with a BB gun on campus. "He is a really nice guy and he was always a pretty good kid," said Liz, 14.

Liz is not sure why her friend was allegedly involved in the case. "Some people have said that there was supposed to be a fight after school, but I don’t believe that," Liz said. "I honestly don’t think he was going to fight. I think he just really was caught up in something larger than he was. He shouldn’t have been there."

County school officials declined to speak about the specific incident, but made a point of saying their schools are safe for students and teachers. "We have very safe schools. Our teachers have their ears to the ground and they are taught to stop things before they ever start," said Paul Regnier, Fairfax County Public Schools community relations coordinator, who declined to specifically address last week’s incident at Herndon High. "I can tell you that incidents like these are not very common in Fairfax County."

Regnier said that of the 520 recommended expulsions in Fairfax County during the 2001-2002 school year, 167 were for weapons violations or possession. Possession of a firearm on school grounds does, according to the county, require home expulsion. Of those 167, 93 offenses could be traced to knives or razors, while 26 were related to BB guns or pellet guns, Regnier said.

"I’m just glad that someone said something," said Liz, a freshman. "I think the police and teacher handled it very well."

Tim Sewter and Eric Buller were also surprised to hear about the incident. The two sophomores say they are also friends with one of the expelled students. Tim, 16, of Reston, said his friend had "always been a good kid, never getting into much trouble."

Eric, 15, of Reston, agreed. "It’s just not something you would expect from this kid," Eric said, while waiting for a ride home from school on Friday.

<b>WALKING HOME</b> from school on Friday afternoon, Shelby Davis-Sekle, of Herndon, said she wished that the administration or teachers had addressed the issue that so many of her fellow classmates, and concerned parents, had already been discussing for two and a half days. "Not knowing exactly what is going on can make you a little paranoid," the 16-year-old said. "The fact that you don’t know what is going on is pretty scary. You don’t know whether to be scared or whether it is just a hoax."

With "visions of Columbine" running through her head, Shelby said she was, at first, a little scared because all she had heard was rumors about the story. "[The administration] doesn’t have to name the people," she said. "They should just tell us that everything is taken care of and that everything is all right and that they have the people here at school trained to protect us."

She was not alone. "It’s definitely kind of scary," Liz said. "I just want someone to get the facts straight and tell us what happened."

While no formal announcement was made to students or parents after last week’s incident, Leslie did send an e-mail to the PTSA board and to all members of the faculty, said Lombardozzi.

"Frankly, from what I hear, some of the teachers are relieved because they said that two of the kids involved had been disruptive for much of the year," Lombardozzi said.

Lombardozzi praised the school’s Fairfax County Police SRO, Robin Wyatt, for handling the situation quickly and without incident. The police, including the SRO, she said, do a good job of addressing the rising problem of gangs in western Fairfax County. "To the best extent possible, this is something they monitor quite closely," Lombardozzi said.

To further ease any lingering fears, Regnier also insisted that county schools, and its more than 166,000 students are safe. "I certainly wouldn’t be concerned if I was a parent in that school. I would not be worried," the spokesman said. "We have absolutely terrific security. In fact, our security is a model for the rest of the country."