2 juveniles who had guns at Rock Hill schools had previous gun charges, officials say

Tracy Kimball/tkimball@heraldonline.com

Two juveniles charged with violations connected to guns seized last week at Rock Hill schools were already on probation for previous gun violations, court testimony showed Tuesday.

The two are among three students who were charged last week after guns were found on consecutive days at South Pointe and Rock Hill high schools, and Dutchman Creek Middle School. All three schools are in the Rock Hill School District.

No one was hurt in any of the three incidents and no shots were fired.

The student charged in connection with the South Pointe High School incident on Aug. 29 had been released from juvenile detention to probation in June after spending seven months in custody for assault and a gun violation, testimony Tuesday in York County Family Court showed.

The juvenile who was a South Pointe student is 16 years old, officials said.

The student at Dutchman Creek Middle School charged Aug. 30 with weapons violations, including allegedly pointing a gun at another student, also was on probation from a previous weapon incident in the Charleston area, lawyers in the case said in court Tuesday.

The juvenile who was a Dutchman Creek student is 14 years old.

Both juveniles were taken into S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice custody last week.

Both will remain in custody as the cases move forward, visiting Family Court Judge Coreen Khoury ruled Tuesday. All three charged in the unrelated cases are males. The Herald is not naming the juveniles because of their ages.

The third incident

On Aug. 31, a student at Rock Hill High School had a gun in a vehicle in the parking lot, York County Sheriff’ Office deputies said. That student, age 16, ran from campus and was charged two days later with two weapon violations, said Trent Faris, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

The student was released to the custody of his parents, Faris said.

The case involving the student and gun at Rock Hill High was not involved in Tuesday’s court hearings.

‘An earthquake of concern’

The seizure of guns in Rock Hill schools on successive days last week has created “an earthquake of concern in our community” that has sent waves of fear through students, parents, and the public, York County’s top prosecutor said in court Tuesday.

Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett told Khoury during the detention hearings that last week’s weapon seizures have caused an explosion of concern from the public.

“Weapons in schools are a national crisis,” Brackett said Tuesday. “The consequences are absolutely horrific....Guns in schools are a tremendous concern, and this type of behavior is just not acceptable.”

Brackett and Senior Assistant Solicitor Whitney Payne argued that the two students who were in court Tuesday needed to remain in custody of the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice to protect public safety based on their prior juvenile records.

The lawyer for both juveniles, 16th Circuit Assistant Public Defender Stacey Coleman, said each juvenile should be allowed to be released pending further court action.

Coleman said the younger of the two had the gun at the middle school because of threats from another student who has an older sibling involved in gang activity.

“Fear motivated this behavior,” Coleman said in court.

Coleman also said she, as a parent, and the community are thankful that no one was hurt.

Khoury said police had probable cause to arrest both juveniles and they both had to remain in custody until future court hearings are held.

Student attendance dropped after gun crimes

The Rock Hill Police Department school resource officers involved in the South Pointe and Dutchman Creek cases - Dusty Burton and Daniel Shealy - testified in court Tuesday.

One of the guns -- the one found at South Pointe -- was a loaded 9 millimeter handgun. The other was a handgun found in the bathroom at Dutchman Creek that had a laser sight attached, police said.

It remains unclear how the juveniles obtained the guns.

Brackett said in court that the gun incidents at schools caused about a 25 percent drop in attendance.

“Teachers and students are calling out,” Brackett said.

Brackett said after court that even with police and prosecutors and school officials working on the gun problem, parents must be more aware of their children’s actions.

“We are involved after the fact,” Brackett said after court. “The fear in this community has already permeated....How does a child go to school with a 9 millimeter handgun?””

Rock Hill school superintendent Tommy Schmolze attended both court hearings Tuesday but did speak in court.

After court, Schmolze confirmed that attendance has been down districtwide because of the three gun incidents. Schmolze said the gun problem is not just at schools, it is a community concern.

“This fear is a community fear,” Schmolze said.

Rock Hill schools has about 17,000 students at 24 campuses.

“These poor decisions affect the whole culture” Schmolze told The Herald in an interview after court. “These were stopped before something horrific happened.”

Schmolze said the district has initiated random searches and other safety and security measures, yet more must be done.

“Kid’s can’t learn if they don’t feel safe,” Schmolze said.

Schmolze said the school district policy is to seek expulsion for a calendar year for any student with a gun at school.

Rock Hill schools have resource officers from both the Rock Hill Police Department and sheriff’s office, depending on whether the school is in the city limits.

York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson also attended court Tuesday but did not speak. Afterward, Tolson said law enforcement will continue to work with the public and the schools to combat the problem of weapons in schools.

“It’s unfortunate that students and teachers face these issues,” Tolson said. “Rest assured that school safety is a top priority and it will take a collaborative effort between schools, law enforcement and the community to address these issues effectively.”