Mueller Park overwhelmed by community support after gun was fired in school

Friday , December 02, 2016 - 7:09 PM

By ANN ELISE TAYLOR and LORETTA PARK

BOUNTIFUL — On the day after a 15-year-old student allegedly fired a gun inside Mueller Park Junior High, students could have arrived to a grim atmosphere.

Instead, they were greeted by an outpouring of community support.

By the time the school’s principal arrived at 6 a.m. Friday, the building’s entrances, hallways and lockers were decorated with hundreds of colorful paper hearts. Each was adorned with an encouraging message: “You can do it.” “You’re all awesome.” “One smile can make a difference.”

Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams said he wasn’t sure which students, parents or groups left the messages, but he does know their act of kindness made a difference.

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“You talk about having school return to normal, but it was more than normal,” he said. “It was an atmosphere of encouragement, of support and of positivity. It was just overwhelming.”

Emma Reeve, a Mueller Park eighth-grader, said she and other students spent much of the day talking about what happened and how they felt about it.

“I think everyone was kind of really happy about all the heart attacks that we got and letters we got in our lockers and everything,” she said, referring to the onslaught of heart-shaped messages.

Like Williams, she wasn’t sure who left the messages all over the building, but she heard it was church wards, parents and police officers. The one left on her locker said, “You are amazing.”

On Thursday morning, a 15-year-old student came to Mueller Park with a shotgun, a handgun and a box of ammunition for each weapon, Bountiful Police Department Chief Tom Ross said.

He entered a science classroom filled with 26 students and fired a shotgun round into the ceiling without saying a word, Ross said. Williams said the class wasn’t where the suspect was supposed to be during first period, though several of his good friends were in the room.

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Around the same time, the 15-year-old’s parents were in the building looking for him. They’d noticed their son was acting differently that morning, then realized two of their guns were missing.

They were just a few doors down from the science class when they heard the shot ring out, Williams said. A teacher and friend tried to talk the suspect down, and his parents were able to disarm him, Ross said.

On Friday afternoon, Bountiful Police Department Lt. Dave Edwards said they were still unsure what the teen had planned to do. His motive or whether he had a specific target in mind was unclear. 

Utah State Courts’ Communications Director Geoffrey Fattah said formal charges haven’t been filed against the suspect yet. However, Ross said he’s being held on two counts of felony theft of a firearm and two Class A misdemeanor counts of taking a weapon inside a school.

The suspect will be charged in juvenile court, and the charges could change, according to Ross. Fattah couldn’t confirm when charges will be formally filed.

Because of his age, the teenage suspect has not been identified. On Friday, Williams was unable to confirm the grade the boy was in or whether he’d caused trouble in the past.

Though Williams said the “vast majority” of Mueller Park’s students were taken out early Thursday, attendance was good Friday. In fact, a secretary told him it was better than normal.

And just like the rest of the Mueller Park community, Williams said, school staff worked hard to create a positive atmosphere so students felt safe.

As kids arrived Friday, the faculty greeted them at entrances and hallways with smiles and high-fives, he said. The school’s pep band played in the lobby. A student group called the Hope Squad handed out Life Saver candies with notes that said, “You’re a life saver.” 

Williams said Ross came to Mueller Park to greet students as they arrived.

“As a matter of fact, he sent officers to all of the schools in Bountiful just as a sign of support — just to let kids know ‘we are there for you,’ ” Williams said.

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A dozen grief counselors from around the district were also at the school Friday, Williams said. 

Though school officials believe Mueller Park’s staff did a great job handling the incident, Williams said they’re planning to debrief with police to discuss what went well and what they could have done better.

Beth Reeve, the mother of Emma and two other Mueller Park students, was at the school with her daughter Friday afternoon. She described the previous day as gut-wrenching — especially the nine minutes it took to drive from her home to the church where students were being picked up.

“It was a long nine minutes, because visions of Sandy Hook came to mind,” she said. “All we knew is that there was a live shooter at the school. We didn’t know a lot of details.” 

As soon as the principal told parents they’d detained the shooter, she felt intense relief — not just for her children, but for all the neighborhood kids she knows who attend the school.

“It’s just every parent’s worst nightmare,” she said.

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