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Grand Rapids Public Schools bans backpacks after student brings loaded handgun to school

Backs of schoolkids with colorful rucksacks moving in the street
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Grand Rapids Public School District is banning backpacks and considering other security measures after an elementary student brought a loaded handgun to school Wednesday.

District officials said this was the fourth time a student has brought a handgun to school this school year.

Three out of the four of those times, a student brought the gun in their backpack, according to the district.

Larry Johnson, the executive director of public safety for Grand Rapids Public Schools, said in a news conference that the district's approach to safety prevented a tragedy.

"To the parents in the community that are scared, the system is working. There's trust built up. We teach our young people, if you see a weapon, don't touch a weapon. Run and tell an adult. That's what we teach them and that's exactly what they did," Johnson said.

Johnson said the district is enhancing cameras and securing entryways in addition to the backpack ban for the rest of the school year. The district has not yet decided if the backpack ban will go into next school year.

District officials said the handgun found Wednesday was loaded and found in an 8-year-old student's bag after another student reported it to a trusted adult.

Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom said the third-grader who brought the gun to school is a victim and he expects the parents will be charged.

"How close we were to a tragedy. Let me tell you how we avoided that tragedy. Children, and I’m talking 7-year-olds and 8-year-olds, did the right thing and informed adults that they trusted about this dangerous circumstance. That’s what avoided this," Winstrom said.

Grand Rapids Public Schools is hosting a school safety community forum from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on May 20 at GRPS University at 1400 Fuller Ave. NE.

The move to ban backpacks in Grand Rapids public schools follows a similar policy in the Flint Community Schools district that took effect last month.

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.