School may not have been required to report gun

by: Richard Belcher Updated:

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - A former prosecutor tells Channel 2 Action News it's possible that a local elementary school principal was not required to report that a student brought a suspected weapon to school.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher said all of this hinges on whether the item was really a weapon as defined by state law.

Belcher broke the story last week that Woodward Elementary School in DeKalb County waited five days before filling out an initial referral on the incident.

One official report calls it a weapon and late Monday Belcher got his first look at the item, which the school district determined was not potentially lethal.

As DeKalb County district attorney for a decade, J. Tom Morgan had to make decisions about whether to prosecute weapons-in-schools cases.

In private practice, he's defended such cases.

The initial report on the item taken from a 7-year-old at Woodward Elementary called the item a heavy black handgun. Also in that report, there is a reference to a weapon, gun in backpack.

But when Principal Melanie Pearch notified parents last week, seven weeks after the incident, she referred to it as a soft pellet gun and said, "This gun is not considered a lethal weapon."

Last week, school officials said it was a toy and then changed that.

"It's not a toy. It's a replica weapon that is used for non-lethal purposes," district spokeswoman Lillian Govus told Belcher last week.

"We need to have the authorities, the school authorities, to have some discretion, such as in this case. If that weapon could not -- or that weapon, that instrument -- could not be used as a weapon, I don't think it should have been reported," Morgan said.

Late Monday afternoon, the school district emailed a picture of the gun that was seized at Woodward Elementary early last month.

The district said the 7-year-old girl who brought it to school was disciplined but not referred for possible prosecution.

Govus also texted Monday to say the district did confiscate the gun.

Belcher asked to see the item and has filed an open-records request for records related to the incident, including any prepared by the school resource officer.

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