MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — A pellet gun seen in an eighth-grade student’s backpack led to a lockdown of all the district’s schools Friday morning and a massive police response.
The entire incident was over in about 45 minutes, after the 13-year-old boy who brought the plastic-BB gun to the middle school was detained and officials realized there was no larger threat.
The boy was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon on school grounds, police Chief Chris Leusner said. The gun was identified as a Sig Sauer P226 Airsoft Pistol.
While the response may have seemed extreme, officials said, they would rather err on the side of caution in light of a number of school shootings around the country.
“It’s a case of being prepared for the worst,” Mayor Tim Donohue said.
Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor said they do drills on such situations, and the program was followed perfectly Friday. Taylor said other municipal police departments and the New Jersey State Police came to the scene in case the incident was deemed more serious.
“You just don’t know what it’s going to be like. It’s better to send them home later,” Taylor said.
Friday’s incident began at 7:45 a.m., when a student spotted what looked like a gun inside a black backpack next to the library. The toy that shoots plastic pellets is designed to look like the real pistol.
“It’s about as real looking as you could get. The problem is not the damage they could cause, but the look,” said Bud Dunham, owner of Just Sports in Cape May Court House.
Dunham sells the plastic projectiles but said he stopped carrying the guns because of low-quality workmanship. Dunham said “anybody would be crazy” to sell them to buyers under the age of 18.
The guns have orange tips to identify them as toys, but Dunham said these can be easily removed.
After hearing about the black backpack, Leusner said, school officials went to the library and the backpack was gone. That is when lockdown procedures were instituted. The township’s high school, middle and two elementary schools were all put on lockdown. This involved teachers locking children into the classrooms.
A review of the video footage at the middle school was used to identify the student who owned the backpack and it was found in his classroom. “He was apprehended,” Leusner said.
By 8:30 a.m. the students returned to their normal day. Superintendent Michael Kopakowski sent a message to parents that they would continue to provide a safe educational environment for the children.
The middle school does not have metal detectors or armed guards. Chief Leusner said a township police officer is assigned to handle juvenile issues at the school. He also has other duties and was not there at the time of Friday’s incident. The district has a security director, former Middle Township police Capt. Scott Webster, but he is not armed.
Leusner noted that a number of school shootings in the country have been “over relatively quickly.” He said the goal in such incidents is to get as many police officers as possible into the school building as quickly as possible.
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