A Henry Clay High School student was charged after he took a loaded gun to the campus early Thursday, according to the principal.
That one incident set off a cascade of rumors among students about more guns or violence, ultimately leading to an exodus of frightened students as the hours passed. Some students said there wasn’t enough factual information shared by administrators to quell the hysteria. Students were excused for Thursday and Friday absences.
School principal Paul Little Jr., said a student tipped off the administration about the gun before classes began, and Little quickly found the juvenile, a boy, carrying a gun. School administration and law enforcement confiscated a .22-caliber pistol, Little said.
The boy was not carrying the gun to harm anyone at school, Little said.
“He said his purpose for carrying this gun was for protection, that he had no intentions of harming anyone at this school whatsoever, that there was some stuff going on in his community and neighborhood that he felt threatened, so he carried the gun,” Little said. “We have no reason not to believe that.”
The student will face “serious administrative consequences through the school district,” Little said in his email to parents. The student was criminally charged with unlawful possession of a weapon on school property.
Little said the boy did not run or avoid Little when approached. “I think he was probably afraid himself.”
While the administration had secured the student and the gun before school began, students were not aware until the middle of the second hour of classes, according to senior Zach Sippy, who also has a freshman sister who attends the school. He said panic ensued.
“Immediately following that there was hysteria and rumors swirling, kids saying they had guns or knew people who had guns,” Sippy said. “I’m certainly frustrated by a lack of communication on all ends. I don’t think the communication was open or enough or teachers were clear enough. My parents felt out of the loop.”
Initially, dozens of parents picked up their children late Thursday morning after the principal’s email was sent. Even if the student did not intend to harm others with the gun, some people were unnerved.
The principal said early on that students who left Thursday and are absent Friday will be excused.
“We are in the people business and we love our students and we love our parents and we want them to feel safe,” Little said. “If they need an extra day to do so, or however much time, we will work with them.”
But those words and sentiment did not calm or sooth. Rumors spread through social media that there were three guns found and one additional person arrested.
Students didn’t feel safe at the school, Sippy said. He said there were rumors that there would be a shooting during the school’s second lunch.
The line in the attendance room was so long that students left without checking out, Sippy added.
Youths weren’t the only ones alarmed.
“Homeschooling is looking better and better,” one parent said on social media. Another parent said she hates “that our children don’t feel safe anymore in what is supposed to be their ‘safe zone.’”
Henry Clay, which sits where Fontaine Road and Lakeshort Drive meet, has an enrollment of 2,367, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.
Sippy said he is undecided if he will return to school Friday. “I need more information.”
Later Thursday, Little said that all of the rumors were addressed and all were unfounded.
Little understands why parents wouldn’t want their kids in school after a gun scare.
“They just saw on the news 17 kids get killed in Florida, parents did. They saw kids get killed in Marshall County,” he said. “I can’t criticize any parent for checking out their kid today. I get it.”
With four kids himself, Little said he will not let fear and evil run his life.
“That being said, we’re going to do everything we can to become safer and proactive,” Little said. “We aren’t going to let fear and evil win. Not with my own family, and I hope not with the families who go to this school.”
It’s the second time this week a Lexington school has been on alert. Wednesday, Winburn Middle School was on “heightened alert” for four hours after an Instagram threat that was likely a prank.
Schools throughout the state have dealt with threats following the Florida and Western Kentucky school shootings in January and February. Most have been empty threats. Numerous juveniles and young adults have been arrested for making the threats, many through posts to social media, and charged.
Students have taken guns to other Lexington schools this school year. In October, an eighth-grader was found with a loaded gun at Bryan Station Middle School. Also in October, an unloaded shotgun was found on campus in a student’s truck in a parking lot at The Learning Center on Price Road. In August, an inoperable gun was found buried in a field at Bryan Station High School.
In November 2016, three Tates Creek High School students were arrested for having guns on campus on three separate days. Two students were found with guns after they were picked up in a neighborhood by law enforcement and returned to school. An 18-year-old was charged with possessing a weapon on school property, possession of a concealed deadly weapon and resisting arrest in the third case.