AUSTIN (KXAN) — Schools are supposed to be a safe haven. A weapons-free zone. But stories about campus tragedies are stacking up across the nation.
In April, police say a Pennsylvania high school student stabbed 21 people on campus. Just weeks later and closer to home, San Antonio officials say one of their students came to class armed with two knives and an AK-47.
Even in the Austin Independent School District, a student shot and killed himself at Lanier High School last Fall in front of classmates. No one ever reported the gun.
This semester at AISD’s Webb Middle School, police say a student brought a pistol two days in a row.
“It was pretty scary,” AISD parent Orlando Garcia said.
His daughters are in elementary school will eventually attend Webb Middle School. The dad quizzes them about what to do if they catch wind of a weapon.
“What would you girls do,” Orlando asked.
“Tell a teacher,” said his daughters in unison.
In some cases, students might be too scared to come forward so there’s another option: a tip line they can call 24/7.
“Anytime that phone rings someone is here to answer it,” Austin ISD Police Capt. Christian Evoy said.
Austin ISD’s police dispatch center is the hub for Campus Crimestoppers which handles tips for the entire district and four surrounding school districts which include Pflugerville ISD, Eanes ISD, Round Rock ISD and Del Valle ISD.
Callers remain completely anonymous.
“That’s what makes the program effective,” Evoy said. “People will call us. They know, they feel safe calling us and we’re going to act on those calls.”
If someone calls in a tip, the dispatcher contacts the school resource officer or the closest officer on patrol. The officer then notifies the campus principal.
“It’s immediate. We don’t hold any of the tips,” said Evoy.
In the fall of 2010, AISD police say someone called to report that a middle school student had a knife. The tip came in at 1:45 p.m., 20 minutes later at 2:05 p.m. the student and the weapon were found.
Since the program started in 1995, student tips have helped remove more than 100 dangerous weapons, mostly guns, in Travis County schools. The information can pay off. A student can be rewarded up to $500 if the tip is true. But most of the time, students don’t turn to the tip line first.
“Ninety eight, ninety nine percent of the time students report it to an administrator, to the school resource officer, to the librarian, to another staff member,” AISD Police Chief Eric Mendez said.
AISD’s confiscated weapons list is mostly made up of knives. All confiscated weapons end up being locked up in the AISD police evidence room. Chief Mendez showed KXAN a large buck knife in a labeled plastic bag that was confiscated from a Johnston High School student in 2009 that was used to threaten someone.
KXAN filed numerous open records requests with four of the largest local school districts to see what kids have been caught with over the last five years.
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Austin ISD police say officers go into classrooms each year to tell students about the Crimestoppers tip line.
KXAN asked Austin High School student Sioverio Martinez, 16, if he knows how the program works.
“No, I don’t think so. I just see the posters around,” said Martinez.
His first reaction to a weapon would be telling a teacher.
Face to face or by phone, AISD police said the method does not matter as long as the message gets to the right person before it’s too late.
Now, students can even submit their tips online.