As a mother of three children who all attended Killeen schools, Carla Heinchon has concerns about their safety.
“We live in a very different world these days, and it’s a scary place,” she said. “You just never know what people are capable of, and nowhere is really safe anymore.”
Heinchon, whose youngest child is a junior at Harker Heights High School, said she worries more now because of recent events, such as the mass stabbing April 9 at a Pittsburgh, Pa., high school and the 2012 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Closer to home, the Killeen Independent School District experienced five incidents so far this year where students brought weapons to school. Three of the five incidents occurred at one high school, but officials would not name it.
In April, a Harker Heights parent said his child was threatened with a knife by another student, an incident confirmed by the school district. In another incident, the alleged gun turned out to be fake, school officials said.
On Jan. 30, 17-year-old Jonathon Allen Hampton was arrested after Killeen ISD police searched a backpack in his locker at Killeen High School and found a .22-caliber pistol, ammunition and a ski mask.
School officials also confiscated a weapon from a student at Charles Patterson Middle School on March 26. The student’s name was not released.
On April 4, Killeen ISD police searched a backpack belonging to Killeen High School student Brandon Tiontre Woods, 17, and found a .38-caliber pistol. Three days later, police took a Killeen ISD student into custody at Palo Alto Middle School for possession of an “imitation” gun designed to shoot blanks, according to a letter sent to Palo Alto parents. The student’s name was not made public by the district or police.
“My senses are definitely heightened, especially with kids bringing weapons to school and violence happening in our community,” Heinchon said. “My youngest sees fights in the hallways and in the parking lots at her school all the time, but they usually get broken up by a staff member before they escalate. Other than her personal issues with being bullied, she feels safe at school.”
Some experts say the reasons children bring weapons to school vary from case to case.
Trent Terrell, assistant professor and chairman of psychology at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, said mental illness may be involved in some incidents but not all.
“I don’t think there’s a simple thing we can underline,” he said. “Many people want a simple scapegoat — bullying, video games, access to weapons, etc. — but the reality is that there are a combination of factors and each case is different and likely very complex.”
While the motives behind why kids turn to violence are unclear, the district has rules and policy in place to respond when situations arise.
According to the Killeen ISD Student Code of Conduct, students may receive a range of disciplinary consequences ranging from in-school suspension to expulsion depending on what type of weapon the student brings to school. A student also may be charged criminally if in possession of a weapon deemed illegal by Texas law.
The code of conduct states that “a student shall not knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly possess or bring on to the school premises, nor attend any school activity, function, or event with any item that may be considered to be dangerous to that student or to other students.” This includes, but is not limited to, any item that is designed to look like a weapon or ammunition of any kind.
Best job it can
Heinchon said she believes Killeen ISD is doing the best job it can to ensure students are safe.
“The schools are too big to keep an eye on everyone,” she said.
Several other parents and their children, who declined to be identified because they either didn’t want to “create waves with the district,” or bring undue attention to their children who they said are already targets of bullies, shared Heinchon’s sentiments. The parents also shared a similar consensus that violence can happen anywhere and violent behavior is hard to predict.
Terrell, however, said forewarning behavior often occurs but is overlooked.
“In some cases, the warning signs are obvious — threats, statements made on social media, journals or blogs that allude to violent acts,” he said. “In others, it seems to come with very little warning. The reality is that this can happen anywhere — I think everyone should be mindful of the possibility regardless of where they live.”
Another Killeen teen is facing a criminal charge after police said he made a violent threat on social media. According to an arrest affidavit, Keshon German Horton, 17, wrote a message on his Twitter account Monday.
“(Expletive) it, I got a surprise for KHS tomorrow ima just sandy hook elm that hoe, not a threat just a fact,” the message read.
Horton was arrested after Killeen police discovered the message. He was arraigned on a misdemeanor charge of terroristic threat.
The message was detected by the Killeen Police Department, which notified Killeen ISD’s police force. The threat resulted in the assignment of additional police officers at two high schools, the affidavit stated.
Many parents don’t fault the district for what students bring to school. Some say the Killeen district responded accordingly when recent incidents occurred and the students were punished.
Ultimately, Heinchon said kids emulate behaviors they see either at home or on TV and parent involvement and nurturing are crucial to kids who are at risk of “going down the wrong path.”
“We aren’t raising our kids these days; TV and social media are,” Heinchon said. “Especially if mom and dad aren’t around, kids fall through the cracks.”
To prevent latch-key kids from getting into mischief, the Clements Boys & Girls Club operates club after-school programs in 15 locations within the Killeen school district. The club began surveying members through the National Outcome Initiative Survey in 2013.
That year, 488 teens were asked about safety and 93 percent stated they felt safe at the club’s after-school sites, as safe as anywhere else they might go, according to the survey.
“As a community, we need to make sure we are providing our youth with safe places to go and meaningful positive experiences, especially in times when parents are working after school and summer,” said Jon Charles of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Texas. “Our partnership with KISD and the community continues to move on that path. Parents need to join us in helping our youth have the skills and knowledge to stay safe, in continuing support of community organizations that are addressing the issues our youth face today.”
Chris McGuinness contributed to this report.