By Clarence Williams and Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 16, 2006
A 7-year-old girl mistakenly grabbed her mother's DKNY bag on the way to school Tuesday -- and turned it over to a teacher several hours later when she discovered a loaded semiautomatic pistol inside, authorities said.
The mother was called to the Northeast Washington elementary school, and she was arrested and charged with weapons offenses and child endangerment. Police quoted her as saying: "That's my gun; she got the wrong bag."
No one was hurt in the episode at Emery Elementary School, at 1720 First St. NE. The gun contained five live rounds, authorities said.
The girl's mother, Maryam Williams, told a school official that she had intended to take the gun to a firing range for practice, according to charging papers filed yesterday. She said the bag containing the gun was in the trunk of her car, along with her daughter's backpack, and that there must have been a mix-up, the papers stated.
Police and school officials said the gun went unnoticed until the end of the school day, when the girl opened a small makeup case inside the DKNY bag and saw the small, silver-colored .380-caliber pistol. The child immediately told her teacher, and school officials notified police, according to the charging papers.
Williams, 32, of the 1800 block of North Capitol Street was released on personal recognizance after a hearing yesterday in D.C. Superior Court. The charging papers quoted her as saying that she knew the gun was loaded and that she did not realize that it was missing until the school called.
After reading the prosecution's allegations, Magistrate Judge Michael J. McCarthy said Williams should have been more careful, adding, "It's reprehensible behavior."
Williams told officials that she lives with her mother and has been unemployed for six months, according to a report prepared by the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency. She also stated that she has three children and is expecting her fourth.
Williams declined to comment as she left the courtroom accompanied by her fiance and attorney. "I don't want to say anything," she said.
Mindy Good, a spokeswoman for the District's Child and Family Services Agency, said that Williams and her mother have joint custody of the girl and that the child will be allowed to remain with them. She said the city has no record of previous problems with the family.
Assistant D.C. Police Chief Gerald M. Wilson, who heads the department's school security division, said the gun was so small that "I'm sure I could have put it in my pants pocket." Students, faculty members and school officials acted quickly and appropriately, he said.
"There was no menacing behavior," Wilson said. "At no time, beyond the fact that the weapon was present, were children in danger."
The school's principal yesterday sent a letter to parents saying that a social worker would talk with the girl's second-grade classmates in a "healthy dialogue" about the incident and what they can learn from it.
In his letter, Principal Robert G. Taylor stressed that the incident was "rare and extremely unusual." He said the school would perform "a security audit" and encouraged parents to speak with their children about firearm safety.
Wilson echoed that recommendation.
"School safety is a partnership that starts at home," he said. "When one of those components breaks down, we have a problem."
Staff writer V. Dion Haynes contributed to this report.