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CMS Tallies 22 Guns Last Year -- And Butler's Fatal Shooting Isn't Included

Police cars are stationed outside of Butler High School after a shooting Monday morning.
Police cars stationed outside Butler HIgh after a fatal shooting in October 2018.

Gun possession in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spiked to 22 cases in 13 schools last school year, according to a report presented to the state Board of Education this week. And that’s not even counting a fatal shooting at Butler High in October 2018.

You might think a fatal shooting during school hours would stand out in a report on school crime and violence. But the report posted this week shows no unnatural deaths in CMS and no guns at Butler High … during a year in which one student shot another outside the school cafeteria.

The state says Bobby McKeithen’s death wasn’t tallied because he was pronounced dead at a hospital. And Butler wasn’t among the 13 CMS schools reporting guns because the shooting was logged as an assault with a weapon – a category that could include, say, a threat with a knife or even an attack with a slingshot.

A Grim Picture

But the numbers posted this week still paint a grim picture of a year that was marked by fear, lockdowns and random gun searches.

The 22 gun possessions reported at CMS were the highest in the state – and the most the district has tallied in the 12 years of reports posted on the state’s website.

Next highest for 2018-19 were Guilford County and Winston Salem-Forsyth schools with 13 each. Wake, the state’s largest district, reported only five.

The General Assembly requires schools to report on 16 criminal and violent acts that occur on school property.  The most common are possession of drugs, assaults on school employees and possession of weapons other than firearms, such as knives, brass knuckles and air guns.

The vast majority of schools and even districts report no guns in any given year.

CMS traditionally leads the state in gun reports. That’s partly because it’s the second-largest district. Twenty-two gun possessions in 2018-19 equated to one for every 6,666 students. Both Winston Salem-Forsyth and Guilford had higher rates of gun possession than CMS – as did a number of small districts.

Catawba, Gaston and Lincoln county schools reported no guns. None of the charter schools in the Charlotte region reported any guns in 2018-19 either.

Violence In CMS

The flip side is that CMS accounted for not quite 10% of the state’s students in 2018-19, but tallied almost 18% of the state’s gun reports. The district also reported eight assaults with weapons -- that's almost 20% of the state total.

The CMS gun reports came from 13 of the district's 175 schools. Ranson Middle School tallied five. CMS spokeswoman Renee McCoy says there were not five guns at Ranson, but wouldn't elaborate, saying that "NCDPI can best explain their data collection protocol." 

When multiple students are involved in one gun incident, the number of possessions reported can be higher than the total guns confiscated.

Cotswold Elementary had three gun possessions reported. Rocky River, Myers Park and Olympic high schools had two each. Whitewater Middle and East Mecklenburg, Garinger, Hopewell, Independence, South Mecklenburg, West Charlotte and Vance high schools each had one.

The assaults with weapons took place at Butler, Marie G. Davis, Governors Village STEM Academy, North Mecklenburg High (two), Northridge Middle, West Mecklenburg High and Wilson STEM Academy.

Lower This Year

McCoy says so far this school year, six guns have been detected on CMS school grounds, with only two of those inside schools.

In the aftermath of the Butler shooting – as well as a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018 – CMS added a number ofsecurity measures. For instance, security teams conducted random gun searches at high schools and CMS bought a gun-sniffing dog.

Former Superintendent Clayton Wilcox also launched installation of a $1.7 million panic alarm system that provides employee badges that are supposed to allow them to instantly report incidents and trigger lockdowns or evacuations. That system has been in the news since Earnest Winston, who replaced Wilcox in August, said it doesn't work properly and said he would seek to get the district's money back.

Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.