A packed gymnasium of Bull Run Middle School parents and staff members gave a standing ovation Thursday night to the school's principal during a community meeting to share information and answer questions in the wake of a weapons incident on the last day of school.
A 12-year-old seventh-grader brought a rifle into the building around 8:30 a.m. June 18 and threatened school employees and visitors in the main office before being arrested, Prince William County police said. Although some parents said they were concerned that information directly from the school trickled out so slowly, many others said they were grateful to police and staff members for acting so quickly and preventing anyone from getting hurt.
"We have wonderful students and a wonderful staff," Principal William Bixby said at the meeting. "The actions of a number of individuals were quite remarkable." He said when the time is right, "the brave actions [of the teachers] will be revealed."
But some parents said school officials did not tell them quickly enough about the day's events.
Others also said the 1,100-student school in Gainesville is developing a culture in which less popular students are left to fend for themselves. Some students have said that the 12-year-old charged in this crime was picked on by other students, although school staff said his teachers and counselors saw no sign of this.
Bixby said that a parent committee has already started to address some of those issues. A tennis club and a cross-country club will start in the fall; it is hoped these activities will attract some children who do not make it past tryouts in other sports. In addition, the school has anti-bullying programs.
"I agree with you, to be consistent we have to be more inclusive," Bixby said.
After days of rumors, parents heard for the first time from police an account of how the morning of June 18 unfolded.
Police said that the boy was driven to school by his mother, cafeteria worker Naomi Lewis, 38, before the first period. The mother discovered that he had brought rifles, a bag full of ammunition, flammable liquids and knives. The two discussed the bag, and she decided to leave it locked in the van on school property.
After spending about an hour in the cafeteria with his mother, he went back to the vehicle to retrieve the bag using a key his mother did not know he had, police said. The boy came back into the school, changed into camouflage gear in a bathroom and loaded a .30-06 rifle, police said.
Assistant Principal Jamie Addington, who was making a routine check of the bathroom, heard the cartridges locking into place and ran into the front office to alert authorities, police said. Witnesses said that the boy also entered the office, threatening some of the staff members. The witnesses said he then left the office to go after two teachers who walked in on the scene and hurriedly left.
When Prince William County police arrived, a teacher was talking to the boy, who was quickly arrested without incident.
The boy remains held without bond on numerous charges, including conspiracy to commit murder, and faces a July 6 trial in Prince William County's Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. A second boy has also been charged with conspiring with him. Lewis has been charged with possession of a weapon on school property. She was held on a $5,000 bond and was released Tuesday.
Prince William County Police Major Ray Colgan also used the meeting to dispel some rumors. There were no weapons found in the ceiling of the school, and there was no written "hit list" of students to be harmed, he said.
"There were students who this kid was upset with," Colgan told those attending Thursday night. "We've talked to those kids and every one of their parents."
Cathy Strittmater, a Haymarket mother of two eighth-grade boys at the middle school, praised the school's response to the incident, but said that the school should have developed a way to contact children's parents directly. "There's got to be a better plan in place" for contacting parents, she said after the meeting.
Lola Clements, whose two granddaughters attend the school, said they were told not to use their cell phones, but the children eventually did so anyway, and shared them with their friends. She said children should be allowed to use the phones in such situations, but added that she understood the early confusion. "It's going to be some glitches the first time," she said.
Bill Campbell, whose daughter attends the school, said he got everything out of the meeting Thursday that he was looking for.
"They squashed the rumors and stated the facts of the case," Campbell said. The school plans to have an event this summer for students to come back to school, sign yearbooks and see their friends. He said his daughter plans to be there.
"When it was happening, girls were crying, but now she's fine," he said. "I think they were more excited than scared."