Student brought loaded gun to Lawrence High School, district says

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

Lawrence High School, 1901 Louisiana St., is pictured on July 28, 2016.

Story updated at 5:13 p.m. Wednesday:

A student brought a firearm to Lawrence High School on Wednesday, according to a news release from the school district.

LHS administrators worked with Lawrence police to investigate a student’s report that another student may have brought a weapon to school, according to the release from district spokeswoman Julie Boyle.

“Staff and police confiscated a loaded firearm from a student,” the release states. “There was no incident or threat made with the weapon.”

Boyle’s release included an email that interim Principal Cynthia Johnson sent to the school community.

“I commend the student who reported this concern to staff,” Johnson wrote in the email. “This enabled us to immediately confiscate the weapon and begin an investigation. We contacted law enforcement and this student’s family and initiated disciplinary action in accordance with board policy.”

Sgt. Amy Rhoads of the Lawrence Police Department confirmed in an email to the Journal-World that officers responded to the school around 1:20 p.m. Wednesday for the report. She said there was no direct incident involving the weapon, and the investigation was ongoing as of 4:10 p.m. Wednesday.

The incident marks the third gun that LHS administrators have reportedly taken from students in the past 12 months. In the span of about two weeks in February 2019, two students were found to be in possession of guns and a third was discovered to be carrying a Taser because it accidentally deployed.

Altogether from April 2018 through Wednesday, the district has had six confirmed incidents of students bringing guns to schools or exchanging them on school grounds. There have been other reports that were unfounded, the Journal-World has reported.

Wednesday was the first day back to school after winter break for Lawrence high schools and middle schools, according to the district’s calendar.

Johnson continues in her email to say she encourages parents and family members to talk with their students at home about what occurred.

“Remind them that our school is full of caring staff members ready to assist students in dealing with any fears about personal safety,” the email says. “Continue to help us encourage students to report safety concerns to a teacher or another adult at school. Open communication leads to prevention!”

Both of the students who separately brought guns to LHS in February 2019 were convicted and sentenced to probation — one in July, and one in August.

Also, away from school grounds, two brothers who were attending LHS were shot and seriously injured in an alleged robbery attempt just after school let out on March 29, 2019, at Holcom Park. One of the teens accused in the shooting had attended the school until a couple of months prior to the incident.

Following the rapid succession of gun incidents in a short timespan last school year, Superintendent Anthony Lewis hosted community conversations about public safety at LHS and at Free State High School. Attendees sat in small groups and shared their ideas for how to improve school safety, then wrote them down for administrative staff to compile.

The district has faced criticism from many parents and other members of the school community in the wake of the various incidents.

Members of the Lawrence High student group SAFER, Students Advocating Firearm Education and Reform, voiced their concerns about communication at a club meeting on Feb. 24, 2019. Several of them said that during a lockdown a few days earlier, people in their classes were generally staying calm until they heard a panicked voice say things such as “text your loved ones” and “take care of each other and watch out” over the intercom.

“That will trigger a lot of people, especially in that kind of situation,” said Siona Baker, then an LHS junior.

The club’s president, Sami Turner, then a junior at LHS, voiced her concern over the administration’s response to the incidents.

“The administrators are supposed to help set the culture of our school and help calm us and be the leading figures, but yet there’s a massive absence there,” she said. “What are we supposed to do without any direction?”

In one incident on Sept. 24, 2019, a parent broke out a window at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School to pull several students from a basement classroom because there were reports of someone with a gun in the school.

The report was a “miscommunication,” police told the Journal-World afterward, and there was no threat to students. However, some parents afterward said the incident was badly mismanaged, causing needless panic and trauma among the young students there.

The Lawrence school board has talked about ways the district intends to improve safety and communication; among them, board members at a meeting Nov. 25 discussed ensuring that substitute teachers are trained in lockdown protocol.

At the same meeting, Lewis said the district is pushing a goal of building relationships with students. He has told the Journal-World and those in attendance at various meetings and community conversations that ensuring that students feel like they have a trusted adult at school is the best method to create a safe environment.

In order to avoid panic from what students are hearing over the intercom, Ron May, director of school safety and security, said during the Nov. 25 meeting that staff was working on “crisis scripts” so that employees know exactly what to say in those types of announcements. He also said the district was working on a mass text message tool to help notify faculty, staff and parents of crisis situations quickly.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact public safety reporter Mackenzie Clark:

More coverage: Weapons incidents, aftermath at LHS

Jan. 8, 2020 — Student brought loaded gun to Lawrence High School, district says

Aug. 21, 2019 — Teen sentenced to probation for bringing gun to Lawrence High School

July 3, 2019 — Teen who brought gun to school sentenced to probation, house arrest

May 17, 2019 — Teen sentenced to probation for stealing gun, providing to fellow student on LHS grounds

Feb. 27, 2019 — Teen sentenced to 6 months of probation in gun exchange at Lawrence High

Feb. 24, 2019 — Lawrence High students concerned about communication, leadership after recent gun incidents

Feb. 15, 2019 — Taser confiscated from Lawrence High student at school, district says

Feb. 14, 2019 — Boy who took gun to LHS this week stole it from parent, charges allege

Feb. 12, 2019 — Lawrence High student allegedly brings gun to school; incident is second in a week, fifth in district in past year

Feb. 8, 2019 — Criminal charges filed against student who reportedly brought gun to LHS

Feb. 7, 2019 — Lawrence High student acted out in class before staff found gun in his bag, school district says

Feb. 6, 2019 — LHS student brought gun to school, Lawrence school district tells parents

Sept. 14, 2018 — 2 arrested after reported gun sale between students at Lawrence High School

Coverage of other weapons incidents, threats of violence in Lawrence schools

Sept. 26, 2019 — Lack of information during middle school lockdown led to needless ‘terror,’ parents say

Sept. 24, 2019 — Students safe after unfounded report of gun at Lawrence middle school; worried parent broke window to pull kids out

Feb. 14, 2019 — Lawrence middle school student allegedly threatens shooting during bus ride

Feb. 13, 2019 — Police, schools investigating Lawrence student’s report of threatening social media post

Feb. 6, 2019 — DA drops felony charge against Lawrence sixth-grader accused of school shooting threat

Sept. 21, 2018 — Student reportedly brings hunting gun to Free State High campus; police investigating

April 23, 2018 — Affidavit: Free State student charged with felony threat told police he’d had thoughts of ‘shooting up a school’

April 9, 2018 — Gun found in backpack at Free State High School; student arrested

Lawrence school district response to weapons incidents, threats

Nov. 25, 2019 — Lawrence school district to train substitute teachers on safety, security protocols

Aug. 6, 2019 — Superintendent says district’s new strategic plan will tackle weapons in Lawrence schools, other big issues

July 10, 2019 — City leaders, school board begin heated discussion on future funding for school resource officers

April 22, 2019 — Lawrence school board likely won’t support metal detectors in schools

April 7, 2019 — Culture shift in Lawrence schools could change discipline, conflict resolution

April 1, 2019 — After 2 Lawrence High students shot at park, school district announces plans to study security

Feb. 21, 2019 — Lawrence school district to compile, share data gathered from conversation on public safety

Feb. 20, 2019 — Lawrence superintendent talks school security, relationships ahead of meeting on public safety

Feb. 12, 2019 — Lawrence school district announces immediate actions to address gun incidents on campus


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