ST. CHARLES – In response to a bullet found Thursday in St. Charles North High School, the backpacks students toted that day are under lock and key in various classrooms as administrators scan each one with an X-ray wand, St. Charles School District 303 Superintendent Don Schlomann said.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also involved and was expected to bring K-9 dogs to help search for live ammunition and weapons, he said.
Any backpack warranting further inspection will be opened by its owner in front of an administrator when school resumes Friday, he said.
In the event that a weapon is found – and there has been no indication that there is a weapon on campus – the owner could be subject to suspension or expulsion, Schlomann said.
St. Charles Police Department spokesman Paul McCurtain said those who bring a gun to school can be charged with a Class 3 felony, which is an enhanced violation of the unlawful use of a weapon statute. It carries a possible sentence of two to five years in prison.
Administrators were in the process of searching lockers as Schlomann told reporters about his decision to send about 2,000 students home in the noon hour Thursday after a staff member found a bullet in a common area at 9:30 a.m. while class was in session.
Schlomann wouldn’t specify where the ammunition was found, but McCurtain said he believed it was in a hallway.
Putting himself in the shoes of parents, Schlomann said he decided around 10:30 a.m. to dismiss school early.
“Obviously, we take those things very seriously,” he said.
The school was put on lockdown at noon, and students began leaving at 12:15 p.m. after bus arrangements were made, he said.
Sophomores Tom Russe and Nicole Jenson, both 15, reported seeing classmates and teachers cry.
They said rumors were spreading about why the evacuation was happening.
“I’d doubt anything’s true,” Jenson said.
The situation scared Russe, whose older sister experienced three bomb threats at North but was never evacuated.
“It must be serious,” said Russe, who was standing in the rain with his friends, waiting for a ride.
Students were ordered to leave their backpacks in their sixth-hour class but were allowed to take personal items, such as keys, wallets, cellphones and purses.
Administrators considered screening the teens with metal detectors as they left but decided against it, Schlomann said.
Teachers’ belongings were not inspected, he said. He said he was “reasonably confident” the bullet was associated with a student. To his knowledge, he said, no students had yet been interviewed.
All after-school activities were canceled Thursday. Schlomann took issue when a reporter phrased the decision as “sacrificing” the day’s extracurricular activities.
“The word is safety,” Schlomann said.
Classes are expected to resume Friday, with students first reporting to their sixth-hour class to retrieve their backpacks, Schlomann said.
Students expressed apprehensions about returning to school.
“I’m scared to come back tomorrow, too,” Russe said.
School officials and St. Charles police have said no known threats have been made or identified. Anyone with information is asked to call the St. Charles Police Department Investigations Unit at 630-377-4435.