Saturday, April 29, 2006

Toy gun causes scare at school

TORRINGTON -- Rumors fueled parents’ fears when school officials confiscated a toy pellet gun from an East School elementary student Thursday morning.

"(The student) did not bring the gun to hurt anyone," said Grace G. Michnevitz, principal of East School on Hogan-Petricone Drive, Thursday night. "He was upset that it was broken."

The male student, who is 9 or 10 years old, was carrying a clear-colored Airsoft gun that fires plastic pellets in his backpack, Michnevitz said.

The gun had a broken piece and the student was planning on going with his babysitter to get it fixed after school, but was upset on the bus ride and threatened to get a gun and kill himself to gain attention, Michnevitz said.

Rumors that the student threatened to kill everyone on the bus circulated throughout the day and eventually led some parents with children on the bus to demand the student be placed on another bus, Michnevitz said.

Concerned parents also called Torrington police, and an officer went to the school to investigate.

Michnevitz assured the officer that the situation was under control and the student did not represent a danger to others.

To quell parents’ fears, Michnevitz moved the student to a smaller bus and sent a letter home to parents to explain the situation.

"I talked to him with a psychiatrist," Michnevitz said. "The boy was fine."

The student served an in-school suspension for the day and was then taken home by Michnevitz.

During her research around East School Thursday, Michnevitz discovered about 20 other students in the school who have a similar type of toy gun that the children use to play a form of tag.

"These are very dangerous items," Michnevitz said. "Apparently these children are not being supervised (when using these guns)."

Airsoft guns have been around for about 30 years and are less powerful than traditional BB guns that fire metal pellets, Airsoft Extreme dealer Andrew Ho said.

Ho manages a store in Torrance, Calif., and sells hundreds of these guns from five retail outlets and a Web site.

"I deal in the higher-end guns that can cost up to $2,000," Ho said. "You must treat them like real guns."

While many of the mass-market guns are colored or clear to differentiate them from real weapons, others look extremely real and could be mistaken for a real gun, Ho said.

That is one reason Ho demands buyers to sign a waiver and be older than 18.

Models sold by BB gun manufacturer Daisy for around $25 are less realistic, but still require supervision, Ho said.

"I understand the concerns about children bringing them to school," Ho said.

Torrington Schools Superintendent Susan O’Brien had not been notified of the incident as of Thursday night, but said the letter to parents was a standard procedure.

"You can’t bring anything like that to school," O’Brien said. "Bringing any kind of weapon is a serious infraction."

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