Leechburg student with gun likely to be expelled
Leechburg Area School District board members and administrators say they plan to review district security protocols after an eighth-grader brought a loaded gun to school Thursday.
“We have a board meeting on Monday, and that will be a big part of the meeting,” said school board member Anthony Shea. “We expect to get more information by Monday, and once we get all the facts in place, then we'll draw conclusions.”
Acting Superintendent Frank Prazenica said installing metal detectors at the school is “being looked at very closely.”
Leechburg police arrested a 13-year-old student Thursday after an officer confiscated a .45-caliber gun from him. The student was carrying the gun, with a round in the chamber, in his waistband, Leechburg police said.
The student is in juvenile detention and is likely to be expelled.
“He is not on the school premises,” Prazenica said. “I would say the student won't be back in the school for the rest of this school year.”
Mayleigh Raypush, 10, of Leechburg said the incident worried her.
“It made me nervous,” said the wide-eyed fifth-grader as she waited for her grandmother, Sandy Raypush, to complete a transaction from an ATM on Market Street in Leechburg on Friday afternoon.
Sandy Raypush, 61, said the lack of a lockdown has caused some anger in the community.
“Yeah, they didn't go into a lockdown this time,” she said. “I don't know why. It makes you worry.”
School officer describes incident
School resource officer Roger Kaufman, a retired state trooper, said school officials acted immediately when a student reported seeing their classmate with the gun.
Kaufman said he went to the student's classroom and found the teen asleep at his desk. He escorted the boy to the main office to notify his parents and await a Leechburg police officer's arrival.
“I kept him in front of me with his hands clearly visible,” Kaufman said. “In my training, I was taught that when you have him in a controlled situation, always have backup available before searching, and that's exactly what I did.”
District policy states if there is reasonable suspicion that a student has a weapon, the student will be asked to empty his or her pockets and hand over their coat or bookbag to be searched.
If the student refuses, officials call the police and the child's parents.
“Reasonable force may be used by teachers and school authorities to obtain possession of weapons or other dangerous objects,” the policy states.
Under the law, school officials can search a student under their authority without a warrant or police presence.
Leechburg chief critical of response
Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold said he thinks school officials should have searched the student and secured the weapon as soon as possible.
“I would have sent multiple officers to the classroom; he would have been escorted out of the room, immediately searched and the weapon immediately secured,” Diebold said. “We had a student with a loaded weapon, and everybody was put in danger by their (administrators') actions.”
Kaufman said he believes he handled the situation appropriately, given the circumstances.
He said he didn't want to alert the student by initiating a school lockdown because the student was in a classroom with other students and a teacher.
“He was in a classroom, and I didn't know where the weapon was,” Kaufman said. “Once I went and collected him, he was in a supervised status.
“At that time, there was no reason to go into the lockdown and put everyone into a panic.”
School director backs Kaufman
School board member Kathy Vargo trusts that Kaufman made the right call. She said that while she hadn't been fully briefed on the situation, she knows that Kaufman is good at his job.
“One advantage of having a school resource officer that I can see is the keen observing skills they've been trained to have,” she said. “We're right on target with every precaution that the district can make. You can never cover all the bases because we're dealing with the human element.”
Board member Joseph Michadick declined to comment. Other board members couldn't be reached or didn't return calls.
Marjorie Pochiba, 69, of West Leechburg said she worried about her four grandchildren, who all attend Leechburg Jr./Sr. High School.
“I was extremely worried when I heard,” she said as she stood outside of Klingensmith's Drug Store on Market Street in Leechburg. “I'm just glad he didn't use the gun.
“I know it's a small district, but it worries me how he got it in to the school.”
Pochiba said she talked to her grandchildren after school Thursday, and none of them had heard there was a gun in school.
Mayleigh Raypush, who attends David Leech Elementary School, said she was absent from school the day of the incident. She said she doesn't know the student accused of bringing the weapon but has heard of him.
“Kids talk about it,” she said. “They know how he acts.”
Police: Suspect in trouble before
Leechburg police have dealt with the teen before, Diebold said.
Diebold said the teen had just completed juvenile probation after Leechburg police arrested him a year ago at the school on charges of manufacturing and possession with intent to sell a controlled substance. The student had a small amount of marijuana, Diebold said.
Police say the teen stole the gun he brought to school from a relative who lives in Leechburg. According to police, the adult kept the gun locked up.
The teen is charged as a juvenile with having a weapon on school property, carrying a firearm without a license, burglary, theft, criminal trespass and receiving stolen property.
Jodi Weigand is a Tribune-Review staff writer. R.A. Monti contributed to this story.