The girl, who was reported on the school’s anti-bullying app, now faces a felony for threatening her classmates, just one week after two boys at a neighboring middle school were charged with misdemeanors after they were caught with real guns in their backpacks.
“I think that this is something that probably could have been handled in the principal’s office and got completely out of hand,” Jon Cavanaugh, the girl’s grandfather, told the Star. “She was just mouthing off.”
A police officer and Westridge Middle School officials questioned the 13-year-old girl and another student about the Sept. 18 incident, an Overland Park Police Department spokesperson told The Washington Post in a statement on Thursday. The Overland Park officer then handcuffed the teenager and took her to a nearby juvenile detention facility, where she was charged with a felony for threatening.
“Too often there are reports of violence in schools and inevitably questions about what could or should have been done to prevent the tragedy,” the police statement said. “Threats in schools are taken very seriously and treated appropriately.”
A week earlier, two 13-year-old boys in the Shawnee Mission School District brought guns hidden inside backpacks to their middle school six miles away. The Johnson County District Attorney’s Office, which filed a felony charge against the Westridge girl, charged the boys with misdemeanors for being juveniles in possession of a firearm, the Associated Press reported.
Prosecutors defended that decision as critics questioned the disparity in charges.
“It seems a little bit of an anomaly, you would think that having the actual gun that would be the more serious charge, but in fact it’s the actual threat,” Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe told WDAF.
The Westridge Middle School student, who hasn’t been named because she is a juvenile, was released to her mother and is staying with her grandfather in California, the Star reported. Her grandfather told the newspaper he was worried about the girl’s future, because the felony charge could carry up to a year in juvenile detention for what he believes was a childish joke. Cavanaugh said his granddaughter does not have access to a real gun at home.
But Howe told WDAF that the charge would probably not result in any time in detention, because the girl would likely be eligible for a program with more lenient penalties.
“It would be extremely difficult, almost impossible, under the current juvenile justice system to actually send them to the correctional facility for that type of behavior because it is such a low-level offense, it would not meet the criteria needed,” Howe told the TV station.
Pretending to fire a gun has recently landed people in trouble. A Pennsylvania court ruled in August that a man who pretended to shoot his neighbor by taking aim with his index finger “created a hazardous condition” and could be criminally charged with disorderly conduct.
In hope of preventing mass shootings, schools have suspended children for playing with pretend guns with regularity since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 children and six adults working at the school.
In 2013, an elementary school in Colorado suspended a 6-year-old boy after he pointed a finger and said, “Pow.” A year later, an Ohio boy, 10, was suspended for three days for “goofing off” with friends by flashing a finger gun and saying “Boom.” When a 5-year-old girl picked up a stick and aimed it at intruders invading her imaginary kingdom on the recess playground in 2017, her school suspended her for “threatening to shoot and kill other students.” Since 2012, kids have also been kicked out of class for bubble guns, pastry guns and toy guns.
Shortly after the girl in Kansas pointed the finger gun at her classmates last month, someone in the classroom reported the incident on the school district’s online anti-bullying app, police told The Post. The girl and another classmate confirmed the story to school officials and a student resource officer later that same day, police said.
The girl will have her first hearing in juvenile court on Tuesday, the Star reported.
A spokesman for the Shawnee Mission School District told The Post the school did not play a role in the arrest or charges. The district has its own police force and also works with local police departments that provide school resource officers.
“Our goal is to keep our students and staff and families, when they’re in our building, safe,” district spokesman David A. Smith told The Post. “We put a lot of energy and effort into building relationships with students, getting to know them. What we have found is when we do that, we know things, we hear things, we have relationships and [students] feel comfortable telling us when something is not as it should be.”