Loaded gun found in backpack at St. Paul's Harding High School

Central High School Principal Mary Mackbee
Central High School Principal Mary Mackbee talked about school safety issues, with from left, Superintendent Valeria Silva, Harding High School Principal Doug Revsbeck and Como Park Senior High School Principal Theresa Neal.
Riham Feshir | MPR News

Updated: 6:33 p.m. | Posted: 4:51 p.m.

A loaded handgun at one St. Paul high school and several other fights over the past three days have prompted school administrators to address safety.

St. Paul police took one student into custody Wednesday when they found a loaded gun in his backpack after a Harding Senior High School teacher reported the bag smelled of marijuana.

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"The backpack was searched even further and that is when we found the loaded gun," Principal Doug Revsbeck said. "There was no threat to the staff, no threat to students. As far as we know there wasn't even any intent to use a weapon in the building."

The incident follows a string of physical fights at two other St. Paul high schools. Como Park Senior High School administrators reported six fights this week. At Central, the principal said police used a Taser on a student Wednesday when he refused to leave the building.

Administrators say many students facing poverty and other hardships in their lives sometimes respond with violence. Central High School Principal Mary Mackbee said students feel safe in school and end up expressing their frustrations there.

"Our kids are needier, they come from families that are suffering," she said. "They succumb to simple kinds of responses to issues and for a lot of them that's violence."

The St. Paul School District has not tallied up incident numbers from this year, but administrators say they are consistent with previous years. Last year, the high schools saw a total of 479 incidents, with the majority being fights and a few categorized as possession of dangerous weapons. That number compares with 435 in 2013-14 and 533 the school year before that.

Superintendent Valeria Silva said the fights typically start outside of the schools and move on from there. She said most fights involve new students and the clash of personalities.

Silva said none of the students or teachers has been seriously hurt or required hospitalization as a result of those fights. In one instance, two female students were reportedly fighting at Como Park Senior High School Monday when teachers intervened.

"The principal pushed, literally pushed the staff to go home," Silva said. "We want our staff to feel safe and sometimes, emotionally, they're not there."

Silva said the district is not proposing any changes to its current discipline policies. She vowed to provide extra support and resources and urged students to walk away from violent events.

"If you see a fight, this is not a show. Just back way and keep doing what you need to do," Silva said. "Unfortunately when those groups are big is because they love to watch."