UPDATE: A juvenile charged with taking weapons to South Salem HIgh School appeared in Marion County Juvenile Court on Thursday, March 2. A hearing was scheduled for Thursday, March 16.
Officials with the Salem Police Department and the Salem-Keizer School District have not responded to emailed questions from Salem Reporter as parents raise concerns about why South Salem High School students and staff were not alerted to the police action. Asked for information about recent school lockdowns, the school district’s communications director, Aaron Harada, responded: “It would be best for this to go through our public records process.”
A 17-year-old boy with a loaded gun and a knife fled South Salem High School on Wednesday as police arrived and was subsequently arrested, according to Salem police and school officials.
The teen, who was not identified by authorities because of juvenile status, has been accused of two counts of possession of a weapon in a public building, illegal possession of a firearm and carrying a concealed weapon.
Authorities released few details but said the episode started with a tip to police.
“A social media user called police to report a student who sent a video message to them through the platform,” the Salem Police Department said in a release issued eight hours after the incident. “The caller was concerned because the video showed the student claiming to be at the high school with a gun.”
The statement provided no information on the content of the video, but said police responded and notified school officials.
Police located the teen somewhere inside the school.
“As officers approached, the student fled from the school. He was subsequently apprehended without incident at a vehicle. The teen was found in possession of a knife,” the statement continued.
A search of the vehicle “and a backpack the juvenile carried” turned up the loaded firearm.
The statement was unclear whether the gun was in the backpack or the vehicle, but the charge of possessing a weapon in a public building indicates the teen had the gun inside the school.
Tara Romaine, the high school principal, on Wednesday evening sent a message to parents that repeated much of the information in the police statement.
“I have a difficult, yet important update to share with you this evening,” she wrote. “Honesty and transparency play critical roles in safety, which is why we are sharing this message with you.”
She asked parents “to have a conversation with your child about what is not allowed at school” and safety concerns can be reported through SafeOregon.
“Our staff are available to support students and families who may have concerns,” she wrote.
A report provided in February by school district officials to the Salem-Keizer School Board on “high school major discipline incidents” for the month of January listed no entries in the category “weapons-firearm” dating to the 2018-2019 school year. It showed two incidents in the current school year involving knives with a blade over 2.5 inches.
In the current school year, the district reported 10 “threat/intimidation” instances.
CORRECTION: The report on high school discipline listed totals for the month of January. An earlier version of this story indicated the figures were for the total year. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.
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Les Zaitz is editor and CEO of Salem Reporter. He co-founded the news organization in 2018. He has been a journalist in Oregon for nearly 50 years in both daily and community newspapers and digital news services. He is nationally recognized for his commitment to local journalism. He also is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon.