Gun in student’s backpack at Smith Elementary was loaded, police say

BURLINGTON, N.C. — Burlington Police are working to figure out how a fifth grader found a loaded semi-automatic handgun.

Police say the child told investigators he found the gun at his bus stop, put it in his backpack and took it to Smith Elementary where he attends school. They are working to confirm that story.

“It’s a scary experience when you’re talking a kid with a loaded gun on campus,” said Chad Laws, a school resource officer who was one of the first to respond to the emergency Wednesday.

Laws described his surprise after getting the call that a child had a real gun at an elementary school.

“It was extremely shocking to me because it is not something we deal with on a daily basis.”

Laws said they’ve dealt with air guns, BB guns, drugs and alcohol on school campuses. “Very rarely do we find an actual firearm,” he pointed out.

Burlington Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division is tracing the gun.

Like Burlington, most school systems in the Triad have officers at middle and high schools daily.

In most counties, those SRO’s share duties at the elementary level. No school systems we spoke to have the resources to station officers at every elementary school every day.

Burlington’s elementary officer position works at multiple schools and is funded by a state grant.

The officer was at Smith Elementary Wednesday investigating a separate case of bullying when information about the gun came out.

Laws said situations like this emphasize the need for SRO’s in schools. “I think it really reassures the parents that there is that extra layer of security on our campuses when they see an officer there, when they’re dropping kids off in the morning, picking kids up in the afternoon.”

“It could have turned out a whole lot differently than it did,” he added.