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Student suspended after gun discharges

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Police and school officials at Highlands Intermediate interviewed students near the basketball area Monday after an accidental shooting.
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The father of an eighth-grader who was arrested Monday after a gun he was handling discharged at Highlands Intermediate School — narrowly missing a student and slightly injuring another — said his son found the pistol on the Pearl City campus and had never held a gun before.

The father, Jason Takayesu, said the .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol is not his and that he has never owned a gun.

Police released the boy to his parents after arresting him for investigation of attempted murder. Takayesu said his son, 14, did not intend to harm anyone and was shaken when he realized someone could have been killed.

The school sent parents a letter about the incident, which took place at about 6:30 a.m., well before the 8 a.m. start of school, but announced no procedural changes such as metal detectors or bag searches.

State Department of Education officials said they could not recall the last time a student discharged a firearm on campus.

"This is something that Hawaii needs to take seriously. It’s not just a school thing," Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe said. "We are very lucky no one was seriously hurt — and luck only goes so far."

Police Capt. Lester Hite said the suspect was showing the gun to two friends, both 14, and pointed it at one of them while they were standing at the base of a stairway near the school’s basketball courts. One of the friends pushed the gun away, and the gun fired, Hite said. The bullet went through the friend’s jacket but did not hit him, Hite said.

The other friend, who had walked away when he saw the gun, was hurt when the bullet struck a rock wall and fragments from the wall hit him on his right hand and thigh, Hite said.

The boy was treated at the school and taken home by his parents.

Paramedics took a student to a nearby hospital after he complained of ringing in his ears, an Emergency Medical Services supervisor said.

Hite said the boy with the gun panicked and discarded the gun near the scene. School officials recovered the weapon before officers arrived. The gun’s magazine was not recovered, police said.

Hite said there were reports the boy removed the magazine from the gun at some point; police were trying to confirm that.

Hite said such a gun without a magazine still could have one round in the chamber.

Police said officers contacted the registered owner of the gun Monday and determined the owner and the suspect are not related. The owner told them the gun was missing, but had not reported it until police contacted him Monday.

Police would not say where the gun owner lives nor how the boy came got the gun.

Some parents went to Highlands Intermediate soon after hearing about the incident said they were upset by the way school officials handled the situation. "They didn’t give any information on what happened," said Venus Acker, a medical support assistant at Tripler Army Medical Center. Acker picked up her daughter, Tiffany, from school Monday morning after Tiffany called on her cellphone.

"I couldn’t believe it. How would a 14-year-old child get a gun?" Acker said. "It could’ve been a lot worse."

Tiffany Acker said she had been walking toward the basketball courts when she saw a boy holding a paper towel over one of his hands. "I was scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I just wanted to be out of the area," she said.

Sheldon Oshio, Leeward Oahu District complex area superintendent, told reporters, "Highlands took appropriate action based on their action plans and within the guidelines of our Department of Education to ensure the safety and well-being of all the students here on campus."

The letter to parents from Highlands Vice Principal Ellen Fujino said the school carried out its safety plan and said students who bring firearms to school will be suspended for at least a year.

Jason Takayesu said his son will be suspended from public school for his freshman year and will attend an alternative school in the fall.

Takayesu said his son said he found the gun before Monday in a secluded area of the campus, but only Monday decided to pick it up and show it to his friends.

"They were all his friends, and they were all looking at it and joking," the father said.

His son was waving it around, he said, when it went off. Takayesu said his son ran off with the gun and threw it on the grass, then checked on his friends.

"We had a good talk. He’s not getting away with it, that’s for sure," the father said, adding, "I’d just like to apologize to the parents of the kids involved in this. I am so sorry for my son’s actions."

When Takayesu told his son that he could have killed someone, "He just broke down. He’s never been around a gun."

Several parents said they should have been notified immediately and been given the option to pick up their children from school. Some parents got word of the incident in frantic phone calls from their children. Others learned when they picked up their kids from school.

"They should have let us know," said Manny Bercasio, 40, who found out about the incident from a reporter as he waited to pick up his seventh-grade son.

Anita Clemente, whose son attends seventh grade at Highlands, wondered why parents couldn’t be alerted through text messages, emails or the school’s website.

Others praised the school, saying the campus with 928 students handled the incident well by concentrating on student safety.

"What can you do?" said Clayton Chang, grandparent of a Highlands student, when asked whether the school should have reached out to parents. He said the bigger concern should be how the student got the gun.

Garette Kanamu, father of two Highlands students, said he understands the concerns of other parents but also sees why the school wouldn’t want to have parents coming at all times of the day picking up students, especially if there was no longer a threat.

In the 2009-2010 school year, 37 students statewide were expelled for bringing a firearm to school, but only one of those incidents involved a real handgun.

The others involved Airsoft guns, such as pellet or BB guns, and one involved "explosives," which are included in the firearms category.

At Highlands Intermediate last school year, there was one expulsion for an airgun. In the preceding three years, there were none.

"No one was seriously hurt, which we’re all grateful for. But the message to the kids is never handle a gun," said Hite, the police captain. "If you see a gun, find an adult. Let the adult know that you saw a gun. Let the adult know where the gun is, but never, ever, ever handle the gun."

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