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Police trying to find source of kindergartner's heroin

| Friday, May 20, 2011

A 7-year-old boy who handed out heroin he thought was "magic" to classmates wasn't in school on Thursday, a Pittsburgh schools spokeswoman said.

Pittsburgh police said they have not filed charges and are continuing to investigate how the Knoxville kindergartner ended up with 18 stamp bags of heroin and razors in his locker and book bag at Roosevelt PreK-1 school in Carrick on Wednesday.

"You have to be able to prove where the drugs came from and who they belong to before you can charge anything," said Maurita Bryant, Assistant Chief of Investigations.

The boy, who told police he found the drugs at home and gave the stamp bags to three other children, remained in his mother's care while the Allegheny County Division of Children, Youth and Families investigated.

In a typical case, "We have to make a clear determination of what exactly is going on in the home," said Marcia Sturdivant, deputy director of the agency. "What risk factors there are. Not only the thing that brought the child to our attention."

School officials found the heroin -- stamped with a picture of a bunny coming out of a hat -- when the boy told his teacher he cut his finger with a razor. There was no sign any child became sick from the drug. The boy thought he had a magic sticker, Bryant said.

Bryant said the child's mother was "alarmed" to learn the boy had heroin and gave detectives permission to search her home a little more than an hour after school officials found the drug. Detectives found nothing.

Three families who found that their children had brought the drugs home immediately notified the school and turned the narcotics over to authorities, Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said.

Pugh said the boy will face disciplinary action from the school. She wouldn't elaborate.

Finding a child with drugs might be enough of a reason to remove a child from a home, Sturdivant said.

"We look at it holistically," she said of such cases. "There are times where that one incident would be enough. ... It's more the risk to the child that we look at."

That risk doesn't just lie in the immediate dangers of handling a drug, said Liz Winter, a University of Pittsburgh assistant professor in the School of Social Work.

"Familial acceptance of drug use operates as a risk factor for future substance abuse," Winter said.

A mother was charged with child endangerment when her son took heroin to a Wilkinsburg elementary school in April 2010, but the charge was dismissed because prosecutors were unable to prove where the child got the drugs.

Sturdivant said her agency's investigations will proceed regardless of whether criminal charges are filed.

"We certainly take that into consideration, but it's not the driving factor in determining whether we keep a child in the home," she said.

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