SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - An 11-year-old Utah boy who said he brought a gun to school to protect himself from a Newtown-style attack, then brandished the pistol at three classmates during recess, has been detained on assault and weapons charges, a school spokesman said on Tuesday.
The boy, a Utah sixth-grader, took the unloaded .22-caliber handgun to his school south of Salt Lake City in his backpack on Monday, a spokesman for the Granite School District said.
Some ammunition was also found in the backpack, but it did not appear to go with the gun, said the spokesman, Ben Horsley.
No one was injured in the incident, which occurred as jittery parents, teachers and students around the country faced their first day back at school since 20 children and six adult staffers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, were shot to death by a lone gunman last Friday.
The 11-year-old student at Utah’s West Kearns Elementary, who was not publicly identified, has insisted he brought the gun to school to “protect himself and his friends from a Connecticut-style incident,” Horsley said.
However, the boy is accused of waving the gun at three classmates on a soccer field during recess. Later on Monday, one of those students and a second classmate alerted their teacher, who “immediately took the student into custody and took him down to the principal’s office,” Horsley said.
After being briefly questioned, the boy admitted bringing the gun to school, and the weapon was recovered minutes later.
Some parents questioned the decision not to initiate a security “lockdown,” but school administrators reasoned that it made no sense to risk alarming students when the threat was so quickly averted, Horsley said.
The boy was booked into a local juvenile detention center on Monday night on one count of possession of a deadly weapon on school property and three counts of aggravated assault. He was also suspended from school indefinitely.
Horsley described the boy’s parents as shocked by the incident and cooperating with investigators, who found the gun belonged to a relative who has been living temporarily with the boy’s family.
He said the community was “rightfully” shaken by the incident. “Because of the tragic occurrence in Connecticut, people’s emotions with respect to children’s safety is right at the surface, and we’re just as concerned as the parents.”
Because the incident unfolded less than an hour before classes were dismissed, parents could not be notified until well after the school day had ended, and only then by telephone, he said.
Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker