PUYALLUP, Wash. — The Puyallup School District expelled a student Wednesday after he was caught with a handgun on campus. This is the fourth gun-related incident within the district in less than a month.
A spokesperson with the Puyallup School District told KIRO 7 News that they expelled a student at Emerald Ridge High School after staff members found a gun.
Sarah Gillispie, executive director of communications and public engagement, said a staff member performed a routine restroom check at lunchtime, and the staff noticed suspicious activity inside a bathroom.
According to a letter, KIRO 7 News obtained, that was sent out to faculty and families from Emerald Ridge High School, the staff member saw three students involved in a bathroom stall.
Gillispie said a staff member found a gun inside a student’s duffle bag, and the student was arrested.
KIRO 7 News also spoke with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office to get further details about the incident.
Sgt. Darren Moss, public information officer for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, said a 15-year-old male student was caught vaping, which involved marijuana.
When the vice principal walked the student back to his office, the student slid his bag to his friend. A staff member searched the bag and found a gun inside it.
“That kid nonchalantly slides his bag with a gun in it to his friend, and his friend probably knows to take care of the gun or not let anybody get to it, so the kid doesn’t get caught with a gun at school,” said Sgt. Moss.
Moss is no stranger to Emerald Ridge High School. He added, “It’s not something I knew about growing up. I went to Emerald Ridge High School. Never had a gun incident there when I attended that school.”
He also stressed to KIRO 7 News that it would take the entire system, not just law enforcement, to address this issue, however, shared some challenges with us.
“This 15-year-old brought a gun to school, and we’re not allowed to ask him why. It’s against the law to interview anyone under 18 without a lawyer. Moss added, “You tell me how that’s going to help us figure out why he’s bringing a gun to school, who’s been bothering him, what’s the reason for all these things.”
Moss said that law enforcement officers often are not able to talk with teenage suspects until several weeks or months later during their trial.
The district expelled three other students in three different incidents after staff members had found guns on them.
This happened at Puyallup High School last week, and twice in October at Glacier View Junior High and Ballou Junior High.
Glacier View Junior High is just down the road from Emerald Ridge High School, not even a block away.
RESPONSE FROM PUYALLUP SCHOOL DISTRICT:
Sarah Gillispie, Executive Director of Communications at Puyallup School District, told KIRO 7 News that the district is planning to hold a virtual meeting next Tuesday at 6 p.m. to find a solution while getting feedback from the public.
The meeting had been scheduled before Wednesday’s incident at Emerald Ridge High School.
The meeting will focus on district safety, and security protocols and seeking feedback from the public, she shared.
“These recent events are extremely troubling.” Gillispie added, “The reoccurrence is alarming so we’re assembling resources and doing whatever necessary to educate about our existing protocols and aligning with what we can do better.”
However, she also said the recent events show the district’s response efforts are working effectively.
In a letter sent out to faculty and families, leaders with Emerald Ridge High School wrote, “We understand the magnitude of this situation and recognize the potential concerns this might raise. Please be assured that our safety protocols, which have been developed in close collaboration with local law enforcement and emergency response agencies, worked as intended. Our staff’s quick response and the immediate intervention by the police ensured the safety of our school community.”
KIRO 7 News asked Gillispie if the district would expand, create, or support any programs to address this issue to help keep students safe.
“We recognize that mental health for example, mental health issues can contribute to safety concerns and we’re prioritizing early identification and intervention to support students who are struggling,” she said.
She also shared that parents and families at home would need to be involved in the solution.
“We’re absolutely raising awareness with regards to the severity and the unlawfulness of firearms on campus.” She added, “We want to take the opportunity to encourage gun safety in homes and in communities. Our focus is building a culture of safety and trust within our schools, which involves a strong relationship with students, staff and families.”
KIRO 7 News spoke with families who live across from Emerald Ridge High School on Thursday about the troubling trend.
A mother told us off-camera that she is concerned and worried as the recent incident happened near her family’s home. She didn’t have a solution to the troubling trend, but said changes need to happen.
We also spoke with Scott Hoyle, who said he was not aware about the recent incidents.
“It’s very concerning.” He added, “We were completely unaware of the incidents. That’s also concerning. There needs to be a way that the local neighborhoods around whatever that situation is is informed as well.”
Hoyle, a father of three, said many Emerald Ridge High School students park their vehicles in his neighborhood, since it’s located right across the street from campus.
He said the recent incidents also affect families who live there, adding “That kind of brings it into our world, just not on the school campus, which is concerning as well.”
A number of schools across the country have metal detectors at its entrances. Hoyle said this may be a solution to help keep students safe in the district, adding he would like to see more law enforcement at campuses.
Hoyle also said “Just expelling a student doesn’t necessarily address the issue. The issue being that student was brazen enough to bring a weapon onto school campus. What happens to that student? I mean are they just at home unsupervised? Or do they enroll in a different school district?”
The district later shared new details with KIRO 7 News after watching our 4 p.m. report.
District leaders said they had alerted families at both Emerald Ridge High School and Glacier View Junior High, since the school is near ERHS, about Wednesday’s incident on Wednesday at 3:15 p.m.
They said 4,519 people were notified via text and email about the incident. The district followed a standard practice across Washington, leaders said and only notified families that were directly affected.
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