Parents and teachers in Baltimore County expressed a lingering uneasiness about school violence Wednesday, despite school officials' promises of beefed-up security after the second gun-related incident in two weeks.
The morning after an eighth-grader allegedly threatened his teacher and classmates with a gun at Stemmers Run Middle School in Essex, police cruisers lined up alongside school buses. Less than 10 miles away, students went about their morning routines at Perry Hall High School, where a student was shot on the first day of school.
Meanwhile, school administrators, working to purchase new hand-held metal detectors, gathered to brainstorm ideas for creating the security office that schools Superintendent Dallas Dance announced Tuesday.
Some parents dropping their children off at Stemmers Run questioned the effectiveness of school initiatives to stem violence if parents aren't doing their part at home. Norman James Gatewood, the 70-year-old grandfather of the Stemmers Run student who was arrested after allegedly pulling a gun, was charged Tuesday with failing to secure the gun at his house.
"I think the schools do as much as they can," said Alvin Barksdale, whose daughter is in seventh grade. Preventing violence must "be a joint effort," he said. "It's got to be the schools. It's got to be the parents. It's got to be the community organizations."
At Perry Hall High, Martha Bingaman, a teacher in Baltimore County for 25 years, said she and other teachers "feel uncomfortable. This is not what I signed up for 25 years ago."
School officials are working on a broad response to the recent violence, said Mychael Dickerson, a spokesman. The school system is examining best practices around the region and country, he said, as well as looking at the resources it has in place and how they might be incorporated under the new safety structure.
Dickerson said a new position will be created in the system to head the new Office of Safety and Security promised by Dance.
"It's going to be someone who is a single point of contact for safety and security," he said.
Overall, Dance is "not taking anything off of the table," Dickerson said. "At this point we're still in the planning stages, but it will be something that is done sooner rather than later."
Other details, including how much the changes are expected to cost the system, were not available.
Whatever is decided will likely be rolled out under heightened sensitivity about violence, a sensitivity that was clear Wednesday.
Two incidents involving a gun or the threat of a gun in the county Wednesday had police rushing to stem confusion about the incidents and quash rumors that they were linked to public schools.
Police said a 15-year-old boy at the Forbush School — a Sheppard Pratt facility in Northwest Baltimore County that provides services for students with behavioral disabilities and autism — was charged with disorderly conduct and with disturbing school activities. Police said the student had joked about having a gun, but did not have a weapon.
Police also reported a police-involved shooting about 11:35 a.m. in the 700 block of Frederick Road in Catonsville. The shooter fled and was found by police on the grounds of Catonsville High School, police said, noting that the school was not locked down.
At a previously scheduled community forum at Loch Raven High School on Wednesday night, parents expressed concern about the recent school incidents. Dance said it's up to parents to remind their children what's right and wrong, and the school system to educate students on the measures that will be taken to prevent weapons from getting into schools.
"It can't just be the schools are doing this," Dance said. "We have to do this together."
In the Stemmers Run incident Tuesday, the 13-year-old boy stood at the end of class and pulled a loaded .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun from his pocket, county police said. The eighth-grader then threatened his teacher, students in the classroom and himself before his female teacher "grappled" with him and forced him to drop the weapon, police said.
The boy will be charged as a juvenile. Children charged as juveniles are not identified.
The boy lives with his mother and grandparents, said Sandra Nuth, who lives next door to the family's home on a quiet street in Essex. The house is owned by the mother, according to property records.
Nuth, 70, said she would see the boy outside when he was taking out the trash or playing with his dog, but that he was quiet and seemed to stay indoors a lot. "I never thought he would do something like that," she said.
Nuth said Gatewood is "a good man" whom she enjoyed talking with in the yard, and she called the boy's mother "a wonderful lady."
Stemmers Run parent Tanya Stansbury, who has a daughter in sixth grade, said she is concerned about children's access to firearms.
"I just don't understand how all these kids are getting guns," she said. "My husband's a hunter, and everything's locked."
Stansbury said she would like to see metal detectors in schools, but also wants troubled children to get more support emotionally.
"The children need to know they can always go to somebody," she said. "Sometimes I feel like kids feel like they have no other alternatives."
Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson said Tuesday that the county would issue hand-held metal detectors to school resource officers and that police would use them "only when there is probable cause to believe that a crime is about to occur."
Stephanie Harris, the mother of a seventh-grade boy, said she wonders how schools will know which students pose dangers.
"How are they going to pick and choose?" she said. "How are they going to know who's suspicious?"
"I don't feel unsafe, but it's just not the same," Bingaman said. "There is a sense of unease that I never had before. Everything seems stirred up."
Anthony Jones said he often drives his son, a junior, to school.
"It was an isolated incident that we all hope won't happen again," he said. "Parents and teachers just have to pay attention to any signs of problems."
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Jon Meoli contributed to this article.
Dance at forum
The Sun's next Newsmaker Forum, at 7 p.m. today, will feature new Baltimore County school Superintendent Dallas Dance The forum will take place in the auditorium of the newly renovated Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson.