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Gun in kindergartner's backpack discharges in cafeteria

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FRAYSER, Tenn. (FOX13) -

A Westside Elementary kindergartner in Frayser was detained by Memphis Police after a gun inside the child's backpack discharged in the school's cafeteria before class Thursday morning.

There were no reported injuries.

The gun, an RG Revolver, commonly known as a "Saturday Night Special," discharged inside the 5-year-old student's backpack  at 7:40 a.m., inside the elementary school, located at Benjestown Road and Frayser Drive.

FOX13 News discovered there was nearly an hour gap between the gun firing and the principal at Westside Elementary calling police. Memphis Police received the call some 40 minutes later at 8:21 a.m., and Shelby County Schools security responded first.

A school spokesman said they were just following procedure. They called security first and then police if it's warranted.

MORE: Zero tolerance for kindergartner who brought gun to school?

Thursday afternoon district spokeswoman Stefani Everson said elementary school staff took possession of the backpack immediately and detained the student. After controlling the situation, staff contacted SCS Security at 7:49 a.m., and four minutes later at 7:53 a.m. the district security department contacted Memphis Police to assist.

When Memphis Police was first notified of the incident, SCS officials didn't mention a shot was fired, only a possible 5-year-old with a gun.

"That's bad you seen a gun," said a concerned Westside Elementary parent. "You see a gun, you hear a gun, you need to call 9-1-1 and then ...."

The first Memphis Police officer arrived at the school at 8:40 a.m.

"As many officers as we have, we can, we can be there within a moment's notice," said Mayor A C Wharton after the gunfire incident. "But if we don't get the call we can't be there."

MORE: SCSO primed, ready for school security duties

The kindergartner brought the gun to school Thursday morning, stashed in the student's backpack. The school doesn't have metal detectors and the backpack wasn't checked.

"At no time was there any direct threat to students or staff," Everson said. "SCS Security was first to respond to the school. The situation was under control, and the school day was already underway when officers arrived. The backpack and weapon were secured and the student was detained.

"SCS Security officers are trained to handle all emergency situations, and it is not uncommon at all for SCS Security officers to be the first responders to a school incident," Everson added. "If a law enforcement officer is not stationed at the school, it is protocol for schools to call SCS Security (security headquarters located at Board of Education) first because SCS Security has a direct line into MPD and Sheriff's Dept. dispatch."

The child was detained and was being questioned by officers Thursday afternoon, with the child's mother present. A police spokeswoman said investigators were trying to determine how the gun ended up in the backpack.

There was no evidence of harmful intent, the school district said.

READ: Letter from Westside Principal Kimberly Adams to parents

In a letter to parents of Westside Elementary, Principal Kimberly Adams said  "staff immediately took possession of the backpack."

"There is no evidence of harmful intent; however, weapons of any kind are prohibited on campuses, and this student will be disciplined in accordance with the state's zero tolerance policy," Principal Adams said in the letter.

Principal Adams said that though the safety of her students are the school's and the district's primary responsibility, she is urging parents and guardians throughout the merged school district to check their student's belongings before school each day.

"You can assist us by checking your child's belonging's each morning to see that inappropriate items are not brought to school."

MORE: Inside Memphis Gun Down

STATEMENT FROM SHELBY COUNTY SCHOOLS:

"This morning at Westside Elementary School, a Kindergarten student brought a firearm to school in his backpack," a media release from Shelby County Schools said. "While waiting for the opening bell in the cafeteria, the firearm discharged accidentally inside the child's backpack. Nobody was injured, and staff immediately took possession of the backpack.

"SCS Security and the Memphis Police Department responded quickly, and the matter is now under investigation.

"There is no evidence at this time of harmful intent; however, weapons of any kind are prohibited on campuses, and this student will be disciplined in accordance with the state's zero tolerance policy.

"The safety of our students and staff is of the utmost importance. Staff is trained to handle emergency situations, and all students were kept safe and calm while this matter was handled."

Emily Yellin, Chief of Communication for the merged school district, said it's standard practice to call school security officers first, who armed security officers. Many are retired police officers.

Yellin said the district had the situation under control.

"What we as the Shelby County Schools take very seriously is that the safety and security of all of the children in our schools was upheld," Yellin said.

Though classes were dismissed for the day shortly after Memphis Police the school district's security staff responded to the discharged firearm, not everyone received the message that school was canceled for Thursday. 

The school district did send home letters with students late Thursday morning to tell parents about the gun incident. Westside Elementary parents say they're not blaming the school for the gun on campus, but feel the district should have notified parents immediately. Some say no matter how SCS moves forward, for them- there won't be a next time.

They're not blaming the school for the gun on campus, but feel the district should have notified parents immediately.  Some say no matter how SCS moves forward with this merged school district, for them there won't be a next time.

"The way everything is going around here, my baby will not be returning to this school," said Westside Elementary parent Ariel le Showers.

"This is the first time my son has been here, so I'll probably just send him to a different school," said Mary Swanigan, another Westside parent.

A phone call from a relative alerted Showers about a gun shot at her daughter's elementary school, a call that sent shockwaves through the mother's body.

"For me to get a phone call like that, it took me all the way back to the Sandy Hook situation," she said.

Showers says as she and other parents rushed to check their children out of school, they were left to fear the worst because the SCS never alerted parents there was a problem.

"Nobody called me," Swanigan said. "I heard it on the news."

Yellin said district administrators will review the security policy for elementary schools after Thursday's incident, and if it is determined things need to change parents could see that happen in the future.

Mayor Wharton wants more information about what went on inside Westside Elementary Thursday morning.

"We'll have to look into it," the mayor said. "I'll get with (Police) Director (Toney) Armstrong. We'll find out what happened."

Two weeks ago FOX13 News reported George Little, Memphis' chief administrative officer sent a letter to the SCS Interim Superintendent Dorsey Hopson asking for a meeting to figure out school security issues. In an e-mail Thursday afternoon Little told FOX13 News he has not heard anything officially from Hopson or the school district.

Interim Superintendent Hopson has yet to comment officially on Thursday's incident.

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FOX13 News reporters Trey Paul, Kristin Tallent and Matt Gerien and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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