Amid heightened national concern about violence in schools, a 15-year-old boy was arrested yesterday after he brought an unloaded Colt semiautomatic handgun in his backpack to Hereford Middle School in Monkton and an eight-round magazine of ammunition was found in his gym locker, police and school officials said.
The eighth-grader, whose name was not released by police or school officials, was charged as a juvenile with possessing a handgun illegally and taken to the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School for juvenile offenders, police said.
Baltimore County school officials said the student was suspended immediately and could be expelled after an administrative hearing within five days. The county's school policy requires a one-year expulsion for any student who brings a gun to school.
Police and school officials said there was no indication that the youth planned to use the gun. "There does not appear to be any anger or any outrage," said Baltimore County schools spokesman Donald I. Mohler. "But every community needs to be aware -- it can happen anywhere."
Last week, a Springfield, Ore., teen-ager opened fire in a school lunchroom, killing two and wounding 24 others. There also have been fatal school-related shootings this year in Pennsylvania and Arkansas. The students charged in the shootings have been under 16.
"There's a heightened awareness -- no one wants to fall into the trap of saying, 'It can't happen here,' " Mohler said yesterday.
It is a violation of federal law for students to bring guns to school. But the recent incidents also have produced a flurry of proposed legislation aimed at ending violence in schools. They have also spawned fear that school violence is spreading across the country, borne on a wave of media attention that results in a copycat effect among troubled teen-agers.
Mohler said that Baltimore County school policy, which makes suspension and expulsion the penalty for bringing guns to school, has been in place since the 1970s. He added that yesterday's incident was handled in accordance with that policy.
The gun was discovered yesterday after another student told the principal that someone had brought it to school.
"We had a tip from another student," said Russell G. Holmes, principal at the 900-student middle school in the rural community in northern Baltimore County. "We searched, and we did find it. There was never any danger to a teacher or a student."
No details about the student were available yesterday.
After Holmes found the gun in the student's backpack, school officials searched his gym locker and found the magazine of eight bullets. A weapons-sniffing dog was brought in by police, but no other weapons or ammunition were found, police said.
The school is in a community where hunting is popular.
"I'm surprised it hasn't happened before," said Sarah Goodwin, whose son is in the sixth grade at Hereford Middle. "This is a rural community, and a lot of the kids have guns in their families. There's a lot of hunting and farming here. You go to the 7-Eleven and you see all the pickup trucks with gun racks in the parking lot."
Yesterday, school officials sent a letter to parents, telling them that a gun had been brought to school and advising them that police would be at the school for the next few days as a precaution.
Holmes said that he could not recall a similar incident at Hereford Middle during his 24 years as a Baltimore County educator.
Pub Date: 5/28/98