Police were called to Hopewell High after a fight during class around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Police said during the fight, a handgun fell on the ground and was picked up by a student. The motive for that fight is currently unclear.
Police: Fight was retaliation for attempted robbery
Investigators at the Huntersville Police Department believe the fight broke out as retaliation for an attempted robbery that happened earlier Wednesday.
Sergeant Odette Saglimbeni with the Huntersville Police Department doesn’t believe weapons were used during the attempted robbery.
“Now we were not able to identify the victim [of the robbery],” Saglimbeni said. “But that case is still under investigation at this time.”
Using surveillance footage, police were able to identify the five students -- all between the ages of 15 and 17 -- believed to be involved in the retaliatory fight. Each teenager now faces a felony charge of possession of a weapon on school grounds.
In the aftermath of Wednesday's fight, one student was taken into custody and was found to be in possession of a loaded gun. Huntersville police said that gun was not the weapon seen during the fight.
Huntersville police and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Police Department searched classrooms and hallways but were unable to find the gun seen during the fight. Dismissal for some students was delayed while officers searched for the weapon.
During school dismissal, a student on a bus told their bus driver that they saw a gun on the bus. Officers were still at the school and took the other student into custody. Police said the gun located on the bus was the first gun seen during the fight and is believed to have been stolen.
Huntersville police said the guns that were found were a loaded Phoenix Arms .22 pistol and a Glock 34 9mm pistol, which was reported stolen.
Officers are still looking for the victim of the original robbery attempt.
Police believe one of the two guns they found was stolen.
On Thursday, several police officers, including one in an unmarked car, were seen on the campus of Hopewell High School. Earlier in the day, a security sweep was done at the school that did not yield the discovery of any additional weapons.
Police want to reassure parents that it’s safe to send their children to school.
“I don’t think parents should be fearful of their kids going to school,” said Saglimbeni. “We do have [school resource officers] at the schools, and when incidents like this occur, we make sure there are extra officers assigned to the school.”
Huntersville Police said they are working with several agencies, including CMPD and CMS, on this case.
On Friday, Huntersville police also confirmed a sixth minor was charged with assault tied to the incident. This came from the Department of Juvenile Justice and no physical arrest happened.
Community leaders react
CMS Board of Education member Rhonda Cheek represents District 1, including Hopewell High School.
She said it was “disappointing” to see the behavior and violent acts that happened inside Hopewell High on Wednesday.
"I'm very frustrated that we continue to see guns being brought into our schools,” said Cheek. “I'm concerned for the safety of our students and our staff."
Huntersville Mayor-Elect Melinda Bales said it was heart-wrenching for her to hear about the incident.
"My heart dropped. My children went to Hopewell high school, and so I have an affinity for that school and for their staff,” said Bales. “They're an incredible group of educators there and to see this happening. My heart just kind of stopped."
Cheek said she, Bales, and the Huntersville Town Manager were going to talk Thursday afternoon about actionable ways to make schools there more secure.
"I won't say I'm going rogue here as a school board member, but I'm kind of tired of saying we're going to work on this,” said Cheek .”We're going to make it better. No, we need to actually have some actionable steps that are visible to the public."
Cheek said some immediate actions being taken were beefing up security at Hopewell High and a security search on Thursday. Cheek said that search did not find any other guns on campus.
“We need to make our schools safe so kids feel safe being there,” said Cheek, “parents feel safe sending them, and that our staff feels safe.”
Cheek and Bales said further security options that are being looked at include clear backpacks and metal detectors.
“We take our kids to Panthers football games,” said Bales. “We take our kids to Bobcat games. We take our kids to concerts. We take our kids to high school football games, and in all of these instances, we walk through metal detectors. I think that there is a way that we can make that work, as well as not make it so in-your-face.”
Town leaders said they’re also talking about having more parents involved at school.
Cheek said she would like to see a program added similar to one in Shreveport, La. called “Dads on Duty.” According to the Associated Press, a group of 40 dads have been taking shifts at Shreveport’s Southwood High School to show a strong male presence on campus after a series of fights led to the arrests of about two dozen students. There have been no fights at the campus since the dads showed up.
“It’s called ‘Dads on Duty,’ but I have so many moms that want to participate,” said Cheek. “I actually talked today and said we need to call it ‘Parents on Duty.’ I feel like that’s going to be implemented very quickly at Hopewell, and I think that it would be a program that we should then try to roll out to all of our schools.”
Bales said she would be voicing these actionable steps to CMS leaders Thursday.”
“That conversation looks like holding the feet to the fire, making sure that all students within CMS have a safe environment to learn in,” said Bales, “and we’ll start at Hopewell.”
Bales and Cheek said they would like to hold a town hall-type meeting in the near future to hear concerns and ideas from parents about ways to make their schools safer.
Principal Tracey Pickard's message to parents
The following statement was sent to families at Hopewell High School:
Titan families and students,
This is Principal Pickard with an important message about incidents that occurred at our school today. We received information that led to a lockdown and a search by law enforcement for a firearm on campus. During the search, a firearm was found in a student’s book bag. In a separate incident during dismissal, a bus driver observed two students with a firearm, which also was recovered by law enforcement. No threat was made in either incident, and all students and staff were safe, but dismissal was delayed for some of our students. Please speak with your students about the serious consequences of bringing any weapon to school. It is a violation of law and the CMS Code of Student Conduct. Thank you for your support of Hopewell High School. Safety will continue to be our priority.
CMS superintendent responds to guns at schools
CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston also issued the following statement following the incident at Hopewell High School:
I am concerned and I know I’m not alone. Guns are coming into our schools from homes and our streets. We must address this problem, but also the underlying issues that are leading to school-age adolescents getting access to guns in the first place. That is a conversation that involves CMS, but it must be broader than that. We cannot come at this alone. I am asking my counterparts in local municipal government and local law enforcement leadership to join me for the first of what might need to be a series of discussions. We must get guns out of young people’s hands. When our community rises to that challenge, our schools will be able to focus on our mission of educating students.
Other Charlotte-area schools have also seen firearms found on campuses; Forest Hills High School in Union County saw a student arrested on Oct. 4 for having a pistol near the football stadium.
Guns keep being found at Charlotte schools:
Guns continued to be found at CMS schools
This is the latest in recent incidents involving guns on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools campuses. On Oct. 29, police recovered a gun from Chambers High School. Just days prior, a gun was found at South Mecklenburg High School. On Oct. 5, a gun was found with two loaded magazines in the gym at Garinger High School after a reported shooting nearby.
CMS confirmed to WCNC Charlotte on Wednesday, Nov. 3, that 15 firearms have been found on campuses within the district so far this year.
List of guns found at CMS schools
Last month, WCNC Charlotte's VERIFY team looked into claims that teen violence in Charlotte is on the rise. CMPD data from 2018 through 2021 shows that Charlotte has seen the lowest violent crimes where a teen is a suspect this year than in recent years.
WCNC Charlotte first reviewed the data after a drive-by shooting in north Charlotte killed 3-year-old Asiah Figueroa. Police determined the shooters were connected to Charlotte area high schools, including Hopewell High School. North Mecklenburg High Schools and Chambers (formerly Vance) High School were also schools identified by investigators.
Parents concerned after weapons discoveries
Parents in Huntersville were nervous as they dropped their children off for school at Hopewell High Thursday, one day after two guns were found on school grounds.
"It makes me feel nervous, yeah I'm scared for her," one father told WCNC Charlotte. "Something needs to be done."
The man said he believes it's time for CMS to put metal detectors in schools for everyone's safety.
"I don't like that they found two guns on campus but I'm glad police got the job done," another parent said after dropping off his child for class.
Priseilla Soso says she hopes the school will get metal detectors.
“Sometimes I just feel like taking them all out of school and just homeschooling them because if it just gets worse like this, you never know what’s going to happen,” Soso told WCNC Charlotte.
Another parent, who asked to not be identified, said she believes the problems start at home.
"It's on the parents," she said. "They need to be more involved."
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