HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Weeks after a Sonnie Hereford Elementary School 4th grade student accidentally shot himself in class, unanswered questions remain. The February 25 incident sent parents into a frenzy of uncertainty outside of the school.
The child who brought the gun to school reportedly suffered minor injuries when the gun went off.
That day, and in the days to follow a number of parents expressed concern about their children returning to the elementary school after the incident.
Many who spoke out to News 19, declined to go on camera, saying they didn’t want to risk their child potentially being singled out in school.
However, that didn’t stop News 19 from asking for information from Huntsville City Schools on their behalf. We made several attempts, but the system’s responses, through its Chief Communications Officer Craig Williams, were largely non-specific.
Here’s what we asked over a number of days ( the school system’s responses are bold):
- Several days have passed since the incident, in that time what has the school/district done in efforts to prevent something like this from happening again?
- Members of the school and district teams engaged in an after-action review to discuss internal protocols related to the incident. These protocols are ongoing and revisited throughout the year to promote campus safety and security.
- What has the district learned (independent of HPD’s investigation) about the events leading up to the student shooting himself?
- There are no additional updates we are at liberty to share publicly at this time as this involves student disciplinary action.
- Are you saying that no changes have been implemented since the incident?
- We do not discuss internal protocols related to campus security in an effort to minimize anyone attempting to take advantage of our safety measures.
- Outside of the after-action review process, what have school staff done in the wake of this incident?
- We review and revisit protocols throughout the year to promote campus safety and security.
- Without going into specifics, since the Sonnie Hereford incident where a child brought a 9mm pistol to school, have you taken any additional steps at Huntsville City Schools to ensure student safety?
- We are always seeking to enhance school safety and security measures, and we continually make any adjustments as necessary.
- Was there a security failure that allowed the Sonnie Hereford incident to happen?
- While we never wish for events like the incident that occurred, we commend the work of our team and law enforcement to efficiently address the situation. We are always examining our protocols, building upon what works, and seeking any potential areas for improvement.
- How would you rate your confidence level that a similar incident won’t happen again?
- In keeping with our goal of continuous evaluation of protocols and best practices, our goal is always to minimize any potential safety threats that may occur.
- What is your message to parents who are worried about the prospect of a student bringing a gun to school?
- Promoting a safe environment at school starts at home. We ask families for their support in ensuring any potentially harmful items are not accessible to children, and we ask families to be aware of items students bring to school. Additionally, we ask families for their support in speaking with their student about “see something, say something” to make us aware of any potential causes for concern.
Based on the responses provided, News 19 is unable to determine if the district or school have made any changes.
News 19’s request for an on-camera interview with HCS Superintendent Christie Finley was declined Tuesday afternoon. The district forwarded a copy of a statement from Finley that was previously sent to Sonnie Hereford parents:
“Today, we are marking two weeks since the incident that occurred on our campus. These past couple of weeks have provided us time to reflect, review, and revisit the events that took place. I want to reach out with an update on what we have done and the steps that have been taken as part of our ongoing efforts to promote campus safety and security.Christie Finley, Huntsville City Schools Superintendent
Our school and district team engaged in an after-action review process to conduct a thorough examination of the events that day. This process included meeting with various members of school and district staff members as well as law enforcement. We have also reviewed and discussed protocols with our staff members to ensure everyone understands our campus safety measures and what to do in situations like these.
Additionally, we are always looking for ways to improve in everything we do as a district. An area of focus as vital as school safety is no different. While I am extremely proud of the work our team did in addressing this incident, we also examined our current protocols and made any adjustments as necessary. We understand there may be questions about what this may entail, but we remain protective about what we share publicly as our goal is to keep students and staff members safe.
Members of our school team also met with parents, families, and guardians. We are grateful for our partnership in helping students grow, learn, and succeed. Many of you have asked what you can do to support, and this is how. We maintain that a safe environment at school starts at home and within the community. We ask everyone for their support in ensuring weapons are not in a place where children can access them. We also stress the importance of “see something, say something.” Please speak with your student about ensuring they know to inform a teacher or staff member if they see something suspicious, unusual, or letting us know if something simply does not feel right.
While there are more steps we have taken, we wanted to provide you with this brief update as we prepare for the fourth nine weeks. If you have any questions or there is anything you would like to discuss, please feel free to reach out to Ms. Williams.”
In the course of our reporting, News 19 also reached out to the Huntsville Police Department. HPD led the investigation into the shooting incident.
HPD Spokesperson Sgt. Rosalind White sent a list of things for gun-owning parents to keep in mind:
- Lock guns up, store it in an out-of-sight location and keep the key or combination where no child or teenager can get to it
- Never store the gun loaded, even when locked
- Locking options include cable locks, trigger locks, lockboxes, and gun safes, all available online or where guns are sold
The child’s parents are not expected to face any charges in the incident, however, the child’s case was turned over for review to the Neaves Davis Center for Children which handles juvenile cases. The Neaves Davis Center’s services include juvenile detention and juvenile probation.