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Three students hit in pellet gun shooting at Santa Rosa school


A 10-year-old boy reportedly shot three classmates with rubber pellets from a BB gun Monday, prompting parents to question how school and district officials responded to the lunchtime disturbance.

The incident occurred at Wright Charter School on Price Avenue just west of Santa Rosa after a 9-year-old brought the plastic gun to school to trade it to a classmate. He gave it to a 10-year-old boy who then shot three other students, sheriff's Lt. Steve Brown said.

No one was hurt and it is not being investigated as a crime, but parents criticized school and district officials for failing until Monday evening to alert families about what had happened.

"I should have received a call immediately and I didn't," said Gina Kemper whose son was struck in the back of the leg with a rubber pellet. She did not find out about what happened until she picked her son up from an after school program.

"In the grand scheme of things, it was just a toy but what if it hadn't been?" said the boy's father, David Kemper.

A deputy looked into the incident Monday evening after a parent called the Sheriff's Office at 5:40 p.m.

Wright Charter School Principal Laurie Whiteside said teachers and staff moved quickly to confiscate the pellet gun from the boy's desk once they were alerted to its existence. Wright School District Superintendent Adam Stein said it was taken away in about five minutes.

Whiteside, in her first year as principal at Wright, said she interviewed seven students to determine what had happened but she was unable to immediately issue an automated phone call to parents in both English and Spanish because the staff member who typically sends them out had left for the day by the time she determined what had occurred. At that point, parents were coming on site to pick up their children and were beginning to complain.

"We should have been notified before the kids came home with their version," said Natalie Hall, a mother of two students on campus.

An automated phone call went out to families of the school's nearly 500 students between 5:30 and 8 Monday evening.

Both Whiteside and Stein agreed that an initial report of the event should have been communicated to parents to be followed with a clearer explanation later.

"The mistake we made was not making that phone call right away. I'm going to take responsibility for not pushing that phone call before the end of the school day," Stein said.

"Should we have everything in place? Yes," Stein said. "We understand the gravity of the situation."

Citing privacy laws, Stein would not comment on what, if any, discipline had been meted out to the boy who fired the pellet gun. He was not in school Tuesday.

About 12 parents gathered outside the school Tuesday morning to address their concerns with Stein and Whiteside. Many complained that all they heard initially from their young children was that there had been a "shooting."

Sgt. Dave Pedersen, who also met with parents Tuesday morning, credited school officials for the way the incident was handled, telling parents the pellet gun was a toy with a spring-loading mechanism that shot rubber bullets and is not capable of causing injury.

"It's an obvious toy," he said.

It is not illegal for a child to be in possession of the pellet gun in question, Pedersen said.

"I know our community right now is going through a lot with airsoft guns," he said.

Thirteen-year-old Andy Lopez was fatally shot by a sheriff's deputy last October while he was walking along Moorland Avenue carrying an airsoft BB gun. The deputy told police that he thought the boy was carrying an assault weapon.

The pellet gun in Monday's incident was a fraction of the size of the BB gun held by Lopez. And unlike that gun, the one found at school Monday was made of clear plastic and was equipped with a bright orange safety tip.

"It was not a crime," Pedersen said of the student having the pellet gun.

But parents complained Tuesday that children, and many parents, did not know the details of the incident until the evening and after students expressed fear and an unclear understanding of what exactly happened.

"My granddaughter is not hearing 'airsoft.' She is hearing 'gun,' 'shooting,' 'kids.' That's it," said Marcee Aliff.

School officials called an emergency staff meeting Tuesday afternoon to address communication issues.

"Honestly, I'm embarrassed at where we are on this," Stein said. "Things are unpredictable. How we react shouldn't be unpredictable."

Staff writer Randi Rossmann contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.