By Joe Beck
A Winchester police officer's gun fired accidentally into the floor of a school bus Monday morning after one of the juvenile passengers allegedly reached into the officer's holster with his finger, law enforcement officials said.
No one was injured among the officer and four students, bus driver, and bus aide reported on board at the time of the incident.
Police said the incident began with a call at 8:34 a.m. from a Winchester Public School official about a disorderly juvenile on a bus reserved for special needs students.
An officer arrived at the scene, calmed the student and remained on board with the student as the bus continued its route, police stated. In the meantime, the student, who was sitting next to the officer, reached into the officer's holster with his finger and caused the gun to fire accidentally, according to police department officials.
Police said the students were dropped off at Daniel Morgan Middle School following the incident.
The incident is under review in accordance with department policy, police said.
Lauren Cummings, police community relations specialist with the department, said in an interview that investigators suspect a problem with the officer's holster may have allowed the student to get his finger on the gun's trigger. Cummings said the holster is a new model issued to officers about six months ago.
"We will be replacing the holsters effective immediately and reissuing the old holsters back in circulation and reaching out to the manufacturer to see if they've encountered any incident in which the holster malfunctioned," Cummings said.
"Certainly no one should be able to get their hand into an officer's holster and discharge a firearm," Cummings added.
Cummings said the officer has been placed on administrative leave while the department investigates the incident further. The department is not releasing his name at this time.
Kevin McKew, executive director of Winchester Public Schools, said students on the bus received counseling from the Daniel Morgan Middle School staff after reaching the school. McKew said school officials contacted parents, and the students who witnessed the incident completed their school day in a normal manner.
"The student involved in the incident was taken to Daniel Morgan and released to his parents, McKew said, adding, "his status will be determined through the disciplinary process of the school system."
Cummings said the officer's gun has a safety switch on the trigger, unlike more traditional firearms designs. For that reason, the student was able to get his finger on the safety and switch it off while pulling the trigger, she said.
Cummings said she was unsure why the student reached for the gun, but there was no conflict between him and the officer, despite the earlier report of unruliness that led police to be called.
"There was no confrontation going on," she said. "The situation had been deescalated, and they were riding to school."
Cummings said the initial report of a disorderly juvenile on the bus stemmed from accusations that the student was interfering with the driver.
"The child was on the school bus and out of control," Cummings said. "He was attempting to unbuckle the driver and pull the radio out of the driver's hand. The driver pulled over and our officer responded to the scene and was able to help calm the student at the time."
Cummings said the gun never left the officer's holster during the incident. She said the shot traveled through the seat where the officer and student were sitting. The bullet hit the floor but did not penetrate it, she said.
Cummings said the bus came to a stop at the intersection of Cork Street and Shenandoah Avenue at 8:52 a.m. immediately after the incident.
"A number of people responded to the scene from the school and the police department," she said.
The department has not taken any other calls requiring officers to respond to unruly students on school buses in the last year, she said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org