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Cops: Student brought shotgun to school to sell

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Updated: May 15, 2013 6:37AM

ELGIN — Two 15-year-old students described by police as gang members have been charged with felony weapon violations as a result of Thursday’s discovery of an unloaded shotgun inside Gifford Street High School in Elgin.

Police and school officials said Friday afternoon that the gun apparently had been brought to the alternative school not to shoot anybody but to sell to another student.

The names of the boys, one from Streamwood and one from Elgin, were not released because they are juveniles. Both have been charged with possession of a firearm by a gang member, unlawful use of a weapon within 1,000 feet of a school, and unlawful use of a weapon. All are felonies.

During a joint press conference Friday afternoon, police leaders and officials from Elgin School District U46 said the incident began about 11:30 a.m. Thursday when a student phoned the Elgin Police Department with information that another student had brought a gun to the school, at 53 S. Gifford St.

Within moments, police Cmdr. Glenn Theriault said, the police resource officer assigned full-time to the school and the school administrators were contacted, and they began securing the building.

“The procedure was like a lockdown, where we had people stay in place, but not one where we had people hide,” said John Heiderscheidt, U46’s director of safety and security.

School staffers began to search every locker in the school and soon found a shotgun. But it was not loaded, and no ammunition ever was found, Theriault and Heiderscheidt said.

Security measures

They declined to say how specific the tip was or exactly what the caller had said, saying that could jeopardize prosecution of the case. But Streamwood youth was arrested soon after the gun was found. Within a couple hours, school operations returned to normal, Theriault said.

After further investigation, Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said, detectives concluded that the Streamwood youth had purchased the shotgun from the 15-year-old Elgin student. So on Friday, the Elgin student was arrested on the same charges.

Theriault said the locker where the gun was found was not assigned to either of the boys arrested, but he declined to explain further.

Heiderscheidt said security at Gifford Street High is handled the same as at all U46 high schools. Occasionally, a handheld metal detector is used to check randomly selected students as they walk in. But on Thursday and in general, the school resource police officer and school security staffers simply look at arriving students for suspicious circumstances.

“Apparently, one student found some way to conceal a shotgun as he came in,” Heiderscheidt said. He said the security procedures will be re-examined in light of what happened, but he believes they are basically sound.

Theriault refused to say whether the gun had a long barrel or had been sawed off to make it easier to hide.

Heiderscheidt said no other guns have been found in any U46 schools, at least since he was hired by the district in 2006, and probably for some time before that.

Both teens were taken to the Kane County Juvenile Justice Center near St. Charles pending juvenile detention hearings.

Heiderscheidt said he doesn’t know what percentage of Gifford Street’s students are gang members, but he believes it is “very small.”

Ironically, just last July, police from several departments and District U46 officials held an exercise at Gifford Street High School to practice what to do in case of a school shooting.

Swoboda said Thursday’s circumstances were very different from the exercise’s — no one was walking around trying to kill people, and no one had been wounded — but the exercise helped police commanders know what communications channels to use, whom to talk to at the school district and even the layout of the building.

Problem students

With only about 150 students, Gifford Street is an alternative high school for problem students. It is located in the century-old former Elgin High School building at the east edge of downtown Elgin.

The alternative school and a similar Gifford Street Middle School occupy most of the east side of the building; the central offices of District U46, the state’s second-largest school district, occupy most of the rest of the building. “Central School,” with some special-education programs, also occupies part of the building.

Heiderscheidt said the district offices were not affected by Thursday’s lockdown.

Students are transferred to Gifford Street from any of U46’s other five high schools because of poor academic performance, spotty attendance or behavioral issues that school officials consider too serious for them to remain in the regular schools but not serious enough to deserve being expelled.

“I am proud of the student who brought this information forward,” Swoboda said in a press release. “It is this type of brave action that leads to a safer community. The lesson to take home from this is, ‘If you see something, say something.’ ”

He said anyone wanting to provide a tip to the Elgin police can do so anonymously at 847-695-4195 or by texting 847411 and including ELGINPD at the beginning of the text along with the message. Heiderscheidt said a student also can simply go to one of his teachers and report something he has seen or heard.

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