Parent questions authorities’ response to school weapons case

By Joe Beck

The school year got off to a jarring start for Tina Tanner’s son when another boy allegedly pulled a gun on him in a restroom at Skyline High School in Front Royal.

On Wednesday, his mother withdrew him from school and enrolled him in an unspecified alternative program. She has no plans for his return to Skyline after she grew frustrated with authorities’ handling of the incident.

Tanner said the boy who confronted her son should have been expelled immediately, but she is uncertain of what steps the school system took in response to the incident. All she knows, she said, is that her son had another disturbing encounter earlier this week with the same boy who alarmed him in the restroom.

“I’m outraged,” Tanner said in an interview Friday. “I just keep getting more upset.”

Tanner said it was her report of the restroom incident that led law enforcement and school officials to detain and question the student accused of pulling the gun. The weapon was identified in a Sheriff’s Office news release Thursday as a BB gun.

The student Tanner believes accosted her son in the restroom was suspended and charged with possession of a weapon on school grounds and destruction of property.

Tanner said the incident on Sept. 4 was more serious than the impression conveyed by the Sheriff’s Office account, and the weapon in question was a pellet gun, not a BB gun.

Tanner gave the following version of the incident based on information she received from her son. She asked that her son’s name not be used in the story.

Her son, a 15-year-old sophomore, entered the bathroom after classes had been dismissed and found three other boys inside. Her son noticed one of them was shoving something up his shirt. The same boy moments later produced a gun and pointed it at Tanner’s son.

“He points the gun at him and (my son) throws up his hands and says ‘what the heck,'” Tanner said.

Another boy who was with the one who allegedly pulled the gun then told Tanner’s son, “Tell anybody, and we’ll shoot you.”

At that point, the boy believed to be carrying the gun told Tanner’s son not to worry because the safety was on. The boy who had confronted Tanner’s son then walked over to the toilet and fired one shot into the bowl, leaving an indentation in the porcelain.

Tanner’s son then left the restroom. The incident lasted about two minutes.

The next day, Tanner reported the incident to law enforcement authorities, who informed school officials.

Tanner said she was uneasy contacting someone in the Sheriff’s Office, but decided something needed to be done.

“I took (my son) to school the next day,” Tanner said. “It was hard for me to let my son go in there but then I saw all those other kids and then I knew this is on me. I’m part of this.”

The boy accused of brandishing the gun was called to the office, removed from the building, suspended and charged with offenses requiring him to appear in juvenile and domestic relations court at a later time.

“They handled it real quietly, which I was really comfortable with at the time,” Tanner said of school and law enforcement officials.

Tanner’s satisfaction turned to doubt and anxiety when she began receiving confusing and contradictory reports about whether the boy who had been suspended would be returning to school soon.

On Tuesday, Tanner said, her son was jolted by the sight of the boy from the bathroom incident appearing in the school again during a pre-season training session for wrestlers. The boy pretended to be loading, pointing and firing an invisible gun at Tanner’s son.

An adult on the school staff later entered the room, told the boy he was not allowed on school property and escorted him out.

Tanner’s son told her about the incident on the way home. She pulled him out of school the next day.

The news release issued by the Sheriff’s Office stated that a 17-year-old boy at Skyline High School had been suspended from school on Sept. 5, but gave no information on whether he would be returning to school soon or had already done so.

Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Pamela McInnis said Thursday that the boy had been suspended earlier and was no longer on the high school grounds, but refused to provide any more details.

Phone calls to McInnis and McEathron on Friday seeking comments on Tanner’s remarks were not returned.

The school system’s policy is to recommend a one-year expulsion for students carrying prohibited weapons in school, subject to a vote by the School Board. But exceptions can be made for students “based on facts of a particular case” and under “special circumstances,” according to the policy.

Tanner said she was troubled by the Sheriff’s Office news release identifying the gun involved as a BB gun. She said her husband and son, both of whom are familiar with a wide variety of guns, are certain it was a pellet gun.

McEathron said in an interview Thursday that the gun could be described as either a pellet gun or BB gun but the Sheriff’s Office had chosen to classify it as a BB gun.

Dennis Johnson, vice president of operations for Golden Seal Enterprises, a private security firm in Winchester, said a pellet gun is more powerful than a BB gun but both can kill by piercing a jugular vein and are capable of lodging a projectile in the brain.

Johnson, who is certified by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services as a firearms instructor, said parents have good reason to take a gun incident in school seriously. Whether a student pointed a gun or was threatened by someone with a gun, people can get hurt, he said.

“If either one of them were my kid, I’d be upset,” Johnson said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com