February 22, 2018 11:20:00 AM
New details have emerged from an investigation involving a Caledonia High School student who was arrested at school after authorities found a handgun in his room at home -- including that the student may have been a bullying victim, that he also had ammunition and that the handgun authorities found was a weapon that should have been logged into evidence for an investigation at Lowndes County Sheriff's Office 10 years ago.
The juvenile, whose identity has not been released because his case is in Lowndes County Youth Court, was taken out of school and arrested for possession of a weapon by a minor on Jan. 31 after LCSO received reports from community members concerned about the student. At the time of the arrest, investigators and Lowndes County School District Superintendent Lynn Wright said they never found the student had a firearm at the school.
However, investigators did find the firearm and ammunition in the student's room at home, which they searched with parental permission, a LCSO press release said.
The firearm investigators found was previously in the possession of a former deputy and should have been logged into evidence about a decade ago, the release said. However, the gun was not logged properly. Investigators are working on putting together a prosecutorial case against the former officer for the District Attorney's Office.
Chief Deputy Marc Miley would not comment further on the investigation, declining specifically to answer what former investigator possessed the weapon and what kind of handgun it was.
He said the department was still trying to determine how exactly the firearm left the possession of authorities after it was not logged into evidence.
"Nothing was taken or stolen from our evidence room," Miley said.
Lloyd Price, the county's chief financial officer, said that while firearms are often listed as surplus, they are not sold to the public.
"Usually, those guns are traded in (to a company) when new guns are purchased," Price said. "You won't find them as a party of any auction or public sale."
Officials have confirmed the student in question is no longer attending school, but questions still remain in the community.
"Really, I think people are wondering just how much of a threat it really was," said Caledonia resident Ashlie McEwan, a hairstylist at Mirror-mar Salon. "Nobody seems to really know. The talk had kind of died down, then with what happened in Florida (a deadly school shooting last week), I think that kind of got everyone's attention again. Mainly, I think everyone wants to know how serious this was."
Counselors told investigators they had been working with the student "for a while," the LCSO press release said. They were concerned about changes in his behavior and mood, and they thought he was a victim of bullying. But he would never give counselors names or details, nor did he want them to speak to other students.
The school resource officer reported "suspicious behavior" from the student, prompting LCSO investigators to speak with school counselors. The press release also said students had raised concerns and that a parent showed investigators videos the juvenile made of himself shooting firearms that were posted to social media.
CHS counselor Lora Dawkins would not comment on the specific case, but said generally district policy when counselors think a student may be a danger to themselves or others is to counsel with the student, parents and a mental health professional.
"We call the parents, have them come here and conference with them and give them a paper that a licensed mental health professional has to sign off on before they come back to school," Dawkins said.
"... We are very honest with them," she added. "If you say something that we think we need to report, we tell them we are obligated to report it. Some of them won't talk, but most of them will. The administration knows when we hand the paper out that says the kid may be a danger to himself or others, they know every time we do that and they are involved in some capacity. For the most part, we handle it with the parent. The parent is very gracious most of the time and they seek help."
She said teachers also go through training in how to handle crises, particularly when it comes to social media.
"They are trained to notice if a child is going to be a threat or if a child is going to hurt himself," Dawkins said. "There are plenty of times when a teacher emails us and says, 'Can you check on this kid?' or 'What's going on? Can you give me a little background about this child?' They're really good about noticing stuff like that in their classrooms."
'It shocked me'
Tammy McCool, owner of Caledonia Package Store and a first-term board of alderman member, is a friend of the student's family.
"It shocked me," she said. "My son is friends with him. That's a sweet child. I just didn't believe it. He's a straight-A kid, the most polite, well-mannered child you have ever met. He and my son have known each other since kindergarten. I love his mom, his dad. They're a hardworking couple and his mom and I have volunteered on so many things together."
Like McEwan, McCool said the community still doesn't have many answers about the incident or how big a threat the student really posed.
"Nobody's really talking about it," she said. "When you ask people, they tell you they don't know anything. It's been kept really quiet. I know nothing. I really don't. I think this has been misunderstood."
CHS principal Andy Stevens said he understood concerns from parents and community members that the student will now have a reputation for being taken out of school.
"We've already been accused of that by the parents," he said. "I'd rather accuse somebody and be wrong than not accuse somebody and not do anything about something bad that happens. When you're dealing with this sort of thing, it's serious. It puts us in a bad situation."
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