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Student Caught Carrying Gun at Buena High

Weapons: A ninth-grader is confronted before boarding afternoon bus. Officials say school has zero-tolerance policy.

September 16, 1997|SCOTT STEEPLETON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VENTURA — A Buena High School ninth-grader believed to have ties to a local gang was arrested Monday after school officials found him carrying a small loaded handgun on campus, authorities said.

Ventura police officers arrested the 16-year-old youth, whose name was not released because of his age, and took him to Juvenile Hall. Police also confiscated the gun, a .380 semiautomatic pistol.

Authorities said they had received tips from other students that the boy, whose family came to Ventura from Mexico only weeks ago, was carrying a gun.

Buena High School Principal Jaime Castellanos said he and several other school officials confronted the boy in a hallway just before school let out about 3 p.m.

"I was a little shocked and apprehensive," Castellanos said. "You don't expect this to happen."

The boy allegedly handed over the gun described by officers as a cheap Saturday night special, and was then escorted by police off campus and taken into custody.

"He's definitely involved in some sort of gang activity," Castellanos said. "He's telling me he bought it for protection because he had some problems last week."

In addition to the information about the handgun on campus, school officials also were told of a plan by rival gang members to confront the boy once he got off his school bus later that day on Telephone Road near Petit Avenue, in east Ventura, authorities said.

As a precaution, the bus was accompanied on its route by two police cruisers, but there were no incidents at the bus stop.

Among those who met the students at the east Ventura bus stop was district Supt. Joseph Spirito.

"The kids were calm. They went home and went about their business," Spirito said.

The Ventura Unified School District has a zero-tolerance policy toward weapons of any type, Spirito said. Signs across the Buena High campus remind students of the policy.

"The kids understand we are serious," Spirito said.

He pointed out that the policy might have been what prompted other students to come forward with the information about a student having a gun on campus.

"We did follow the leads at the school, and they nailed the kid there," Spirito said. "They got him before he even got on the bus."

Spirito said he will recommend the boy be expelled at the next school board meeting, Sept. 23.

"I will ask for the immediate expulsion of this kid," he said. "Get him out of here right now."

In the neighboring Oxnard Union High School District, officials said they have strengthened their zero-tolerance policy by using metal detectors to discourage weapons in the six-school district.

"Knock on wood, fortunately we have not expelled a student in the last couple of years for possession of a gun," said Ralph Gonzales, director of instructional and support services.

Twice each school day, district officials hold a lottery of sorts to determine which classes in the five comprehensive and one continuation high schools will be subject to a search, Gonzales said.

After selecting the classes, officials choose students by last name, by randomly selecting a letter of the alphabet. Ten students are taken from class to an empty classroom where they are searched by school officials with hand-held metal detectors, Gonzales said.

Since the metal detectors were first used in 1993, the district has seen a decrease in the number of weapons on campuses, Gonzales said.

"The word has finally gotten out that we won't tolerate that kind of nonsense," Gonzales said.

Despite Monday's arrest, Ventura school officials say they have no plans to adopt the use of metal detectors.

"I don't think metal detectors are necessary," Spirito said. "We got a staff there who knows how to handle these situations."

Besides, he said, students with weapons at school is a rare occurrence.

Castellanos agrees that Monday's incident is an exception.

"I've been here seven years and it's the first time I've ever had to take a weapon off a kid," Castellanos said.

Times correspondent Nick Green contributed to this report.

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