WMBF INVESTIGATES: Schools report increase in weapons found on campus

WMBF INVESTIGATES: Schools report increase in weapons found on campus

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Knives, guns, pepper spray are all illegal in South Carolina schools but they’re reported by districts year after year.

When districts find a weapon on their property, they are required to report those numbers to the South Carolina Department of Education each year.

WMBF Investigates obtained data for the last three school years and found weapon violations are on the rise.

For the 2018-19 school year, South Carolina schools reported 1,066 weapons.

“That’s sad, that’s sick,” said Jessica Bell, who cares for Horry County students. “I feel bad for these kids.”

Already this school year, there were bomb and shooting threats in Florence School District 1. A gun was found in a Horry County middle school and a Georgetown County high school.

The number of weapons across the state decreased slightly in the 2017-18 school year, but last year the number increased by around 250.

Schools report an increase in nearly every type of weapon.

Horry County School District saw the number of weapons found in its schools double last school year.

“We don’t really have a particular reason what causes that number,” said Horry County School District spokesperson Lisa Bourcier. "We do have an increase in population but not enough that would warrant an increase in that.”

The district also ranks top in the state for the greatest increase in weapons between the 2016-17 school year and the 2018-19 school year.

Despite the increase last year, Horry County Schools reported zero firearms. More than half of the weapons reported were knives with blades larger than 2.5 inches.

"We live in South Carolina, a lot of people tend to hunt and fish and camp over the weekend so we do have pocket knives that will come into a school and mostly because they’ve forgotten that they were actually in their book bag,” said Bourcier.

Nisean Durant and Isaiah Hayes are seniors at North Myrtle Beach High School and said they’ve known many people who’ve forgotten to take out their knives or pepper spray before going to school.

“My friend has a job and he has his tools and everything and they found them in there because he ain’t bring it out of his car because he had just came from work, so he forgot to take all the stuff out,” Hayes explained.

“As my Grandma told me, if you do something seven times in a row it becomes a habit, so you just taking your pepper spray and your pocket knife as part of your daily habit, you don’t always think,” Durant added.

High school and middle school students at Horry County Schools are checked by metal detectors each morning.

“We are getting more thorough in our searches, making sure that we are teaching our staff exactly how to perform their searches to make sure those items are caught upfront,” Bourcier said.

Bourcier explained if a weapon is found, school officials begin an investigation and local law enforcement is contacted.

“We make sure we are doing all the reporting mechanisms that are required, sometimes those items are confiscated by law enforcement and sometimes those items are given back to the parents,” she explained.

The district has different levels of discipline for violators. Under state law, a student is automatically expelled for one year if a gun is found.

Despite the increase in weapons recently, Bourcier said she thinks schools in Horry County are some of the safest in the state.

“We have reporting procedures and anonymous types avenues for anybody to report incidents and so we do a lot of training, we have visitor management systems, security cameras, so we have a lot of tools in our toolbox that we can use to make sure our schools are safe,” she explained.

The district is also increasingly urging the community to send in tips and said more reports are helpful.

“A lot of times having that trusted relationship between students and faculty is very important. I think we’ve seen that a lot this year alone when it comes to students and parents coming forward and letting people know even if it’s a threat they heard or a social media posting or something, we’re starting to see that reported more often and that’s a good thing,” Bourcier said.

Durant and Hayes said they do feel like their school has everything under control if and when a weapon is found. They said they personally have seen very few weapons at their school.

Bell said she doesn’t think it’s only up to the schools to decrease the number of weapons.

“I feel like it’s kind of a double edge sword because the schools obviously need to be doing their part and maybe checking them a little bit better when they come in but also a lot of it, unfortunately, needs to start from home and parents need to be super proactive about making sure they are keeping anything and everything away from their kids especially the ones that are young enough that wouldn’t have a means to go out and get it by themselves,” Bell explained.

Horry County still has the second greatest number of weapons reported, but that statistic isn’t that surprising considering student enrollment.

Factoring in the number of students, Florence District 3 ranked third in the state for weapon to student ratio behind Hampton 2 and Allendale.

Locally, the biggest increase in weapons reported over the last three years were at Carvers Bay High in Georgetown , Creek Bridge High in Marion and Spaulding Middle in Darlington.

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