Three Dubuque students face misdemeanor charges and have been suspended after police said they brought nonlethal weapons to school Thursday.
Washington Middle School was locked down at about 11 a.m. after a school resource officer and school district officials found an airsoft pistol in a student’s backpack, officials said. Airsoft weapons fire plastic or rubber projectiles using a spring or compressed-air mechanism.
“Based on the investigation, officials believe there was no immediate threat to other students or school staff but ordered a lockdown as a precautionary measure,” the release states.
Police responded to the school. As an additional precaution, a police dog trained to detect explosives searched the school for the presence of gunpowder or ammunition, according to the release. None was detected.
“This was a good opportunity to deploy the unit and ensure, above and beyond, the school is safe,” said Lt. Scott Baxter, a police spokesman.
The lockdown ended at about 12:30 p.m.
However, based on information learned during the preliminary investigation, three BB pistols were found among the belongings of two other students, police said.
The three students involved — two 13-year-olds and one 14-year-old, who police did not identify — face charges as juveniles of violating a city ordinance that prohibits carrying concealed weapons without a permit, a simple misdemeanor. They were released to their guardians pending initial court proceedings.
“This is about zero tolerance,” Baxter said. “Even if it’s ‘nonlethal,’ you can’t take it to school.”
Baxter also noted that the recovered weapons looked like real guns.
“Even more concerning, the weapons seized today have a very realistic appearance, and our officers are trained to respond accordingly,” he wrote in an email. “Air guns, toy guns, replicas, etc. that look authentic to our trained officers will be treated as though they are real firearms until the officer(s) can safely guarantee said weapon is not lethal.
“Unfortunately, we’re often expected to make that determination accurately and in a fraction of a second while lives hang in the balance. We’re just thankful it didn’t come to that today.”