By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 10, 2008
A gunshot in a boys' restroom yesterday morning at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington set off an investigation that yielded three guns and several other weapons, stowed in a student's locker, officials said.
Police said students took the guns to school in hopes of selling them. One of the guns went off accidentally as students were examining it in a second-floor restroom, they said.
Five male students and one female, ages 14 to 17, were taken into custody after the incident, and other students were held in their classes for two hours after the customary 2:10 p.m. dismissal. School officials said it was the first instance they could recall of a loaded weapon finding its way onto a Montgomery County campus. There are no metal detectors at the county's high schools.
"The big news here is there was not an intent to harm a student," said Lucille Baur, a police spokeswoman. "Students brought the guns in with the purpose of selling the guns, and in the process, a gun accidentally discharged. It was not pointed at anyone, and no one was injured by it."
Police said in a news release that the incident was probably related to friction at the school that began last week. Students said there was a serious fight outside the school Friday, possibly involving gangs. Police posted extra officers at the school this week.
The students involved in yesterday's incident remained in custody late in the day and had not been charged, Baur said. She said the oldest students would be charged as adults. One of the three guns recovered was stolen.
"It's still under investigation as to what use they might have made of the guns," Baur said.
The investigation began after a student told school administrators about a loud noise coming from the restroom between 11:30 a.m. and noon. Police found a bullet hole in the restroom wall. A security camera mounted outside the room led them to student witnesses.
The school was placed on lockdown during the seventh and final period, which began at 1:20 p.m. Students were held in their classes until after 4 p.m., when the firearms had been recovered and the suspects removed from campus.
Several students said boredom, rather than fear, was the prevailing mood.
"I just really needed to go to the bathroom," said senior Laura Smith, 18, who emerged from campus with a throng of students after the delayed dismissal. "People really weren't taking it too seriously."
Einstein High reported 11 weapon incidents during the 2006-07 academic year, the most of any high school in the county, according to a state report on suspensions and expulsions.
Nonetheless, several students said stories circulating outside the campus about gang and criminal activity at Einstein were greatly overstated.
The school, which has about 1,550 students, offers a college-preparatory International Baccalaureate program and is a popular choice among the five high schools in the Down County Consortium. The consortium allows students in a large area of the county to pick a high school from among the five.
"This stuff doesn't normally happen at this school," said senior Lashawn Frye, 18.
Michelle Turner, the mother of four Einstein graduates, said Montgomery parents have generally opposed having metal detectors or any kind of police presence at schools. She said she doubted that yesterday's incident would change that view.
"We don't want our kids to think they will only be safe at school if there's a police presence," Turner said.
Parents posting comments on a PTSA message system wondered whether the incident signaled a rise in gang activity at the school.
"We do know that MS-13 is around here," said Christine Grewell, referring to a well-known Latino street gang. "We may have members at the school. I don't know."
Grewell, the mother of an Einstein junior, said the school did an admirable job of keeping parents up-to-date yesterday via automated telephone calls. She received four during the afternoon. She also received a text message from her daughter, who wanted to know what was going on. Students said they were told relatively little about why they were being held in their classes.
Police and school officials said that they would continue searching the school last night and that officers would be on hand this morning.