Dade schools police chief Ian Moffett credits mentorship, active policing, counseling and other prevention methods. One of the most important deterrents, he said, is gun education and relationships with students, who often dont adhere to the no-snitching code that frustrates so many police investigations.
Theres far more information coming out of schools than coming out of the community because of the code of silence, Moffett said. When I was a school resource officer, the vast majority of the time I got my tips from students and prevented that stuff from getting to campus. Its the things outside school that cause a person to bring that gun or knife to campus.
Reports show that schools police go out to homes and into communities in response to tips from parents, other agencies and social media to try and catch guns before they get to campus. But guns do still make it into classrooms and schoolyards, sometimes randomly in restrooms or, in one case, a donated golf bag. And when that happens, principals, teachers and students become responsible for finding and reporting the weapons.
Latoya Thomas, for instance, was teaching seventh-grade science at Madison Middle in 2009 when she noticed her students were passing around a backpack. She thought someone had a pet, because students had been sneaking rabbits and snakes into class.
I had a really good rapport with that class. I was like another mother. And the kids in my class warned me, Dont look in the book bag, said Thomas, 34. After, I thought what could have happened? The kids were like, We knew about it, all along.
About one year later, American Senior High teacher Bello Jean-Baptiste overheard two seniors talking about bringing a gun to school, so he wrote a referral to administration. Police found a loaded .22-caliber, double-action H&R Sportsman revolver on the student, who told them he was trying to sell the gun for money. He also had 109 bullets.
Jean-Baptiste said the discovery was disconcerting. But he said worries about students with guns are overblown.
It was just an unfortunate incident, said Jean-Baptiste, 57. Its not like theres a culture that kids bring guns to classes.
But as last years shootings show, one undiscovered or unreported gun can have frightening consequences. And sometimes, the safety net breaks down when guns go unreported or tips arent followed up properly.
Thats what Amanda Collettes parents alleged in a lawsuit settled by the Broward School Board after their daughter was shot dead at age 15 in Fort Lauderdales Dillard High by another student in 2008. And last year, police say the students who shot DAngelo Marte and Lourdes Jina Guzman-DeJesus had both shown their guns to classmates before the firearms went off. Criminal charges were filed in both cases.
Lourdes mother, Ady DeJesus, says her daughters shooting is proof that schools need better security measures. Jina, a Palm Glades Preparatory Academy student, was fatally shot in the neck by another student while riding to their charter schools aboard a private school bus that was also transporting her younger sister to school. Witnesses told police in depositions that the shooter, Jordyn Howe, 15, brought his stepfathers gun to Somerset Academy Silver Palms for as long as two months. Some said he let other students see or play with the gun on the bus, including Jina, though her mother doubts thats true.