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Independent Voice

Follow-up to Handgun on the John Knight Campus

Nov 04, 2022 12:00AM ● By Office of DUSD Superintendent, Brian Dolan

As widely reported in the community, a 13-year-old student was found in possession of a semi-automatic pistol and multiple magazines on the JKMS campus during the school day on Monday, October 31st. The student and backpack that the weapon was in were quietly removed from a classroom by administrative staff without incident, and a team of officers from the Dixon Police Department arrived on site to lead the investigation into the incident and arrest the student. The campus was placed into a lockdown as a precautionary measure while police and school staff ensured that the incident was an isolated one. Regular operations were restored within 50 minutes of the lockdown being initiated.

The remainder of the day Monday, and the entire day Tuesday, was devoted to investigating the situation, which was done jointly by Dixon PD and school administrative staff. More than a dozen students were interviewed, security camera video was reviewed, and other investigative measures were taken. The purpose of this message is not to summarize the outcome of the investigation as much as it is to describe to you what happened among other students who were on campus on Monday. We want to explain to you how the actions of many students created a much more dangerous situation on campus, and how we need to work together in the future to prevent this from happening again.

To restate the incident, we had one student bring a gun to campus on Monday, and the situation was made more dangerous by many other students, none of whom (to the best of our knowledge), ever possessed it. Clearly, the presence of the gun on campus was the single most dangerous aspect of the day and was the responsibility of the student who brought it with them. The danger of the gun was intensified by the fact that students became aware of it prior to the start of school - yet not a single student reported its presence until more than two-and-a-half hours later.

The investigation conducted on the site yesterday revealed that the student who brought the gun showed it to approximately twenty other students on the blacktop on the east side of campus before school between 8:15 and 8:30 A.M. We watched the video of the primary incident in which the gun was shown, and had numerous students confirm that the student withdrew the gun from their backpack and showed it to others. Following the showing of the gun, all of the students who had seen it went to their 1st period classes as usual. And to their 2nd. And to their 3rd.

We know how things happen with kids. That initial group of students who saw the gun instantly messaged their friends what they had seen and named the student who had. This second layer of students who were told about the gun but did not see it also went to their 1st period classes as usual. And their 2nd. And 3rd.

Not a single student - and by this time we believe that many dozens had at least heard about the gun - said a single word to any adult on campus. Restated, a student with a gun was able to easily move about campus for more than two-and-a-half hours because not one of the dozens of students who had seen or heard a report about the gun felt comfortable enough to say something to an adult.

Finally, during 3rd period, a student who had seen the gun before school and had a second contact with the student, texted their mother to report it and asked to be picked up to go home. That mother went to school and reported it to the office. That contact, along with a message from a teacher to the administration, led to the student with the gun having their backpack taken and being escorted out of class. Again, this happened more than two-and-a-half hours after the gun was first shown to other students.

Following mass shootings at schools in the country - and what a horrible phrase that is to have to write - an element of the investigations is always the timeline of who knew what and when, relative to when the gunman began to open fire. Should the unthinkable have happened at JKMS on Monday, we would be additionally distraught and angry because students knew about the gun early in the day but did not report it to anyone. We would be asking why just one student couldn’t have done the right thing by speaking with an adult right away.

There is no intent here to bash our middle school students for not reporting the gun on Monday. We desperately wish that they had, but also know that our students are between 11 and 14 years-old, overwhelmingly inexperienced with observing weapons of any kind on campus, and subject to intense social pressures about what they say to whom, and how their standing amongst their peers might be affected by reporting something at school. As proven on Monday, students are not comfortable reporting a dangerous situation to school staff, unintentionally adding to the danger that they are in. Realistically, many adults would have made the same decision if they were in the same situation.

As we heard from some students in interviews yesterday, they simply did not know how to do what they knew the right thing to do was after learning about the gun.

We asked the students we spoke to about why they did not tell anyone about the gun, and very few could find the words to explain it to us. They could recognize that they should have said something and that people could have died because they didn’t, but could not explain why they didn’t speak up.

We - and the pronoun in this use includes those of us who work in the schools and all of the families that send their children to us every day - have to do more to help our young people understand why they have to speak up when they see or hear something. Intentional discussion and teaching at both home and school is called for. This document should be the basis for a conversation between our students and their families in every home in the District today. Each of our school sites will be tasked with addressing why and how students can report dangers in age appropriate ways with their students in the coming days.

Dixon, or any of our schools, could easily join the list of schools and communities devastated by mass shootings that we have come to know too well over these last decades. Sadly, this is true for every community and school in the country. Safety measures such as school resource officers, locked doors, controlled entries, video cameras, etc. are important steps to take in preventing incidents. Incident after incident, however, shows that having an environment where people share information, learn about and teach best safety practices, and readily report suspicious and concerning individuals and situations is what provides the highest degrees of safety.

Safe schools exist because everyone involved in them - students, staff, families, and community - commit to having them. One of the most important components of this is the simple statement that we wish would have been followed on Monday, and always; if you see something, say something.

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