A student accidentally shot himself in a classroom at Lexington’s Frederick Douglass High School with a “pocket-sized handgun” he took to school Friday, according to school district police and administrators.
The 16-year-old freshman student was taken to University of Kentucky Hospital for treatment and charged with wanton endangerment and possession of a weapon on school property, police said. He had an injury to his left thumb.
“He will not be back to Frederick Douglass High School,” Principal Lester Diaz said in a letter to families later Friday.
No other students or staff were injured.
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After the shooting, Superintendent Manny Caulk said stationary metal detectors will be installed in the school, and all students will enter through them. Hand-held wands are used now but only when school personnel have a reason to suspect a problem. The detectors will be installed as soon as possible, Caulk said.
“We will do everything we can to make students feel safe and keep our teachers and staff safe in this building,” he said.
Friday’s shooting occurred despite already stepped up safety precautions at Fayette schools after a gun was found on a student at Henry Clay High School on March 1. Many are on edge because of increased school threats in the aftermath of the Marshall County High School shooting in Western Kentucky in January that killed two students and left 14 others with gunshot wounds. A Paul Laurence Dunbar senior was recently removed from school and charged after a tip that he was talking about shooting up the school, according to court documents. A rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition were found.
Gun violence in schools is an issue far bigger than Douglass, Diaz said.
“It’s bigger than Fayette County,” he said. “And the truth is, the way our nation is going, this is bigger than Kentucky. We, as a community, have to come together to ensure that our kids have the best chance they have to be successful.”
In addition to the student shooting himself, a parent was taken off Douglass property in handcuffs Friday morning, police said. It was an unrelated incident involving a collision outside the school in which a car was sideswiped, according to school spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall.
The gunfire Friday occurred during morning announcements while the students were in their advisory classrooms, according to the school district. The gun was in the student’s pocket.
Nearby school police officers were able to respond immediately to the classroom, Diaz said.
There was no need for a lockdown because those officers and school staff had restored order within 30 seconds, the administrators said. “We were in class, the hallways were clear,” Diaz said. “There was no need to heighten our level of alert or go into a full lockdown drill at that time.”
Students in the classroom were taken to another location in the building to speak with officers and counselors.
Counselors arrived at the school within about 30 minutes, and Diaz also explained the shooting in a schoolwide announcement, students said. But those efforts didn’t keep students from leaving. By noon, around 30 to 40 percent of the students had left school with excused absences, Diaz said
Freshman student Benjamin Roberts said it is “very scary” and “very concerning” that there was a gun discharged in school.
“It was very scary to be inside that school knowing gunfire had just been released earlier that day,” Benjamin said. “It was very concerning knowing what could have happened. Thankfully, only one person was injured.”
Parents expressed frustration and criticism on social media and when they arrived at school to pick up students.
“Why does he have a gun in the school period?” parent Rhonda Lawson said after she arrived at Douglass. The student with the gun may not have felt safe and carried it for protection. “Luckily he hurt himself instead of other people.”
She advocated for a single Douglass entry point at which everyone and their backpacks are searched. She also supported metal detectors.
Another parent, Jack Roberts, said more law enforcement needs to be hired by the school district for Fayette County schools, even the middle schools.
“It always comes down to money,” he said after picking up his son from school. “If we’re serious about security, we can find the money. Because after 9/11, we didn’t have a TSA, but we found the money for that. We can find the money to keep our kids safe at school.”
He added that more training on lockdowns is needed.
Frederick Douglass will be the first school in the county to have fixed metal detectors, in part because the school building is self-contained, according to the superintendent. Caulk admitted that installing metal detectors is not a fail safe, but rather part of a comprehensive strategy.
“Taking your child to school so that they can learn and get the education that allows them to fulfill their unlimited potential is something we do routinely, not just in Fayette County, but in this country with the expectation that my child will be safe,” Caulk said.
Currently, all middle and high schools have multiple metal detector wands and each school has established protocols for when they will be used, Deffendall said.
At some Fayette schools all visitors and students who enter after the first bell are screened with the metal detector wands and at other schools, students who return to campus after leaving are screened.
Every high school has increased the circulation of administrators and law enforcement officers to ensure that exterior doors remain securely locked at all times. Law enforcement surveillance also includes checking parking lots and walking the campus perimeter, Deffendall previously said.
In terms of other safety measures, faculty and staff at Douglass are now required to wear badges at all times. Students at Frederick Douglass have been issued student IDs.
Some unique safety measures at Frederick Douglass, the district’s newest building, include additional security cameras and mobile command stations in each academy wing, Deffendall said.