A shot fired from a small-caliber handgun on a school bus outside Utica spreads concern through a small community. Yet such incidents are extremely rare, New York state statistics show.
Jaime Sweet was chatting on her cell phone Monday morning on a bus in front of her school when she heard a loud noise that sounded like fireworks.
A gun had been fired. A bullet hit the back of her seat, and the shell landed at her feet, the Holland Patent junior said.
“My hands were shaking on the phone, and my legs felt like Jell-O,” said Sweet, 16.
Two male Holland Patent students have been charged in connection with the accidental discharge of the handgun that happened shortly after 11 a.m., Oneida County sheriff’s deputies said. No one was injured, deputies said.
Such incidents are extremely rare, New York State Education Department data shows. A weapon is discovered in the possession of a student somewhere in Oneida and Herkimer counties roughly once every two school days, the state figures show.
And there were only three incidents involving physical harm and a weapon in the two Central New York counties during the 2005-06 school year, according to the state. None of those involved a firearm.
“When we get calls, it's some type of fight or something of that nature,” Oneida County Sheriff Daniel Middaugh said of sheriff's deputies' responses to situations at local schools. The events leading up to the shot still are being investigated, Middaugh said.
Several unanswered questions remained including:
* Was the gun ever in the school building?
* Who did the gun belong to and why was it on school property?
According to the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office, the following teens face charges:
* James J. Ranaudo, 16, of Steuben Valley Road in Holland Patent, was charged with third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
* Mathew T. Heinig, 17, of East Floyd Road in Rome, was charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree reckless endangerment.
The bus was loading in front of the high school to take students to BOCES when the shot was fired, and about 30 students were on the bus at the time, school and law enforcement officials said.
Two bus seats were damaged, Middaugh said.
The school immediately entered a lockdown, meaning students remained in their classrooms and were escorted by school staff members while in the hallways.
Sweet and her step-sister Holly Coleman, a senior, said they can’t believe something so frightening happened at the school of about 500 students.
“I think it makes our school look bad,” Coleman said. “I never expected this.”
State Department of Education Coordinator for Safe and Drug Free Schools Greg Bayduss said the state works with school districts to make sure violent episodes are a rarity.
That often means targeting behavior such as bullying, which sometimes leads to violent episodes involving a weapon, Bayduss said.
“Whatever the reason a kid could decide to bring it in, and we don't know what the reason is,” he said. “A lot of them have been related to individuals feeling they've been bullied and as a result they feel they have to take things into their own hands.”
Prevention of school shootings begins at home, Middaugh said.
“It would be on the part of the parents to know what the kids are dong and things like that,” the sheriff said. “It wouldn't hurt to look in their rooms once in a while and know what they have in their possession.
“The biggest thing is communication,” Middaugh said.
Communication has always been a center point for one Vernon family.
Peter and Pam Murphy have three boys who attend the Westmoreland Central School District. The parents emphasize good moral values and regular communication to keep their three boys from causing problems in school.
“We always talk to our kids,” Peter Murphy said. “We've raised them to know right from wrong. They know the difference between what's an acceptable situation and what's not.
“Whatever's right, wrong, good or bad, it's important to sit down and communicate,” Murphy said.
In Holland Patent, Sweet’s mother, Laurie Coleman said she learned of the shot being fired on the bus from her daughter, who called to let her know she was safe.
“After I hung up with her, I started thinking about what could have happened,” she said. “It just hit me all of a sudden and I lost my breath. I just started crying.”