VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - To view Reporter Andy Fox's follow-up report on this story, click here.
Three Virginia Beach seventh graders learned their fates Tuesday morning when they were suspended for shooting airsoft guns.
During a hearing with a disciplinary committee Tuesday morning, Aidan Clark, Khalid Caraballo and a third friend were given long-term suspensions in a unanimous vote. The suspensions will last until June, but a hearing will be held January 27 to determine if they will be allowed back in school sooner.
The students' parents initially told WAVY News' Andy Fox their children were expelled, but when Fox looked at the official letter from the school, he found they were long-term suspensions and not expulsions, as was recommended by the school's principal. Their parents still feel as though their children were expelled.
“I’m more than angry … it’s like an expulsion-suspension,” said Tim Clark, Aidan's father.
Like thousands of others in Hampton Roads, Caraballo and Clark play with airsoft guns. The boys were suspended because they shot two other friends who were with them while playing with the guns as they waited for the school bus September 12.
The two seventh graders say they never went to the bus stop with the guns; they fired the airsoft guns while on Caraballo's private property.
Aidan’s father, Tim Clark, told WAVY.com what happened next lacks commons sense. The children were suspended for possession, handling and use of a firearm. On Tuesday, that offense was changed by school officials to possession, handling and use of an airsoft gun.
Khalid's mother, Solangel Caraballo, thinks it is ridiculous the Virginia Beach City Public School System suspended her 13-year-old son and his friends because they were firing a spring-driven airsoft gun on the Caraballo's private property.
"My son is my private property," she said. "He does not become the school's property until he goes to the bus stop, gets on the bus, and goes to school."
The bus stop in question is 70 yards from the Caraballo's front yard.
Solangel Caraballo was not at home when this incident occurred. She was taking her younger son to a Head Start class. She left her 16-year -old daughter in charge.
This story that addresses Zero Tolerance extending to private property began on Sept. 9 with a 911 call from a concerned citizen.
A neighbor saw Khalid shooting the airsoft gun in his front yard three days before the incident that got the boys in trouble. She told the dispatcher, "He is pointing the gun, and it looks like there's a target in a tree in his front yard".
WAVY.com located the 911 caller and spoke to her. She confirmed Khalid was taking target practice using a zombie hunter airsoft gun to kill the zombies. There was also a net behind the target to catch the plastic pellets.
The caller also knew the gun wasn't real and said so: "This is not a real one, but it makes people uncomfortable. I know that it makes me [uncomfortable], as a mom, to see a boy pointing a gun," she told the 911 dispatcher.
The airsoft guns are designed to be non-lethal. Plastic pellets are used, and not copper bb's.
Ironically, that 911 caller's son was playing with Khalid and Aidan in the Caraballo front yard on September 12 -- the incident that got the boys in trouble. There were six children playing in an airsoft gun war.
"We see the bus come. We put the gun down. We did not take the airsoft gun to the bus stop. We did not take the gun to school," Khalid explained.
Aidan admits shooting the 911 caller's son in the arm, and Khalid admits shooting another friend in the back.
"He knew we had the airsoft gun. He knew we were playing. He knew people were getting shot. We were shooting at the tree, but he still came, and even after he was shot, he still played," Aidan said, referring to the son of the 911 caller.
However, a second 911 call from a different caller on Sept. 12 is what schools officials say led to the investigation and then suspensions. WAVY.com was unaware of the second 911 call on Monday, during our first report of the incident. On Tuesday, Virginia Beach City Public Schools said in a Facebook post that WAVY "chose not to air a 911 call from September 12 ... despite being made aware of its existence by police."
Virginia Beach Police did not mention the second 911 call when WAVY's Andy Fox called the department before his report on Monday.
Still, the second 911 call further confirms Khalid Caraballo did not leave his private property during the September 12 incident.
" ... the white child appeared to have a gun, and he was chasing the other child ... when he saw me he kind of stuck it in his pants. I don't know if it was a toy or if they were playing," said the 911 caller in the Sept. 12 call.
The caller was speaking about 12-year-old Aidan Clark, who admits he ran off Caraballo's property into the street in front of Khalid's house.
"I ran and chased him. I aimed to shoot, and I saw a car on the right," Clark said.
"He looked directly at me and the black child kept on running," the 911 caller said.
Aidan was chasing a third child, who is African American and who was also suspended. Aidan says Khalid never left his property and none of the boys shot the guns while in the street.
WAVY.com reached out to the principal of Larkspur Middle School, Matthew Delaney. In a letter obtained by WAVY.com Delaney said his investigation found the "children were firing pellet guns at each other, and at people near the bus stop." The letter from Delaney says one child “was only 10 feet from the bus stop, and ran from the shots being fired, but was still hit."
Khalid insists all shots fired were on his private property. The three children firing the guns were suspended. The three others who did not fire the guns were not suspended.
Khalid thinks the suspensions are unfair: "Yes, it's unfair because we were in our yard. This had nothing to do with school. I didn't have anything at school at anytime."
The Virginia Beach City Code isn't clear, and goes back and forth. It reads no person "shall ... discharge any firearm, spring-propelled rifle or pistol ... within ... 150 yards of any building." Then it reads "no person shall use a pneumatic gun except at approved shooting ranges or within private property."
Solangel says, "That is exactly my point. It is private property."
However, the Code also requires shooting with "permission of the owner." In this case, the parent is the owner, and she did not give her son, Khalid, permission to fire the gun. He disobeyed her.
"How dare he disobey me, but this is a home issue. It's not a school issue, and it won't happen again. He will never do this again," Solangel said while looking back at Khalid with a stern face.
"I always thought this was a Dad deal, not a school deal," said Tim Clark, Aidan's father. "It was a parental issue not a school issue."
Virginia Beach Police say they do not proactively seek out to enforce this code unless "the juveniles are not exercising reasonable care." Reasonable care is defined as "the gun is discharged in a manner so the projectile is contained on the property by a fence or backstop."
Police are not charging anyone in this case. They would not discuss the specifics of their investigation because the people involved are juveniles.
Khalid said he's concerned for his future with the suspension on his school record.
"It's terrible. I won't get the chance to go to a good college. It's on your school record. The school said I had possession of a firearm. They aren't going to ask me any questions. They are going to think it was a real gun, and I was trying to hurt someone. They will say 'oh, we can't accept you.' "
Until the hearing in January, the boys will either attend Renaissance Academy or be homeschooled. Aidan's father said his son will be homeschooled. Caraballo will attend an alternative school.
The discipline committee on Tuesday included three elected school board members: Dottie Holtz, Bobby Melatti and Carolyn Weems. Melatti refused to give a comment to WAVY.com and the two others did not return our calls.
In a Twitter post Tuesday evening, Virginia Beach School Board Chairman Daniel Edwards attached a letter defending the school's disciplinary actions against the boys: "Yet somehow student safety has taken a back seat in the intense media coverage of this case. This is not an example of a public educator overreaching. This was not zero tolerance at all. This was a measured response to a threat to student safety."
In the statement, Edwards also released information about Khalid's previous discipline problems at school. His parents told 10 On Your Side they are upset by that and said they signed a waiver for the school system to talk to WAVY about the airsoft incident only.
The City codes referenced in this case are as follows:
City Code 38-3, primarily section (d) “ Notwithstanding any other provisions of this section, it shall be unlawful for any person to discharge any firearm, spring-propelled rifle or pistol, from, on, across or within one hundred fifty (150) yards of any building, dwelling, street, sidewalk, alley, roadway or public land or public place within the city limits.”
Section (f) “No person shall use a pneumatic gun in the area of the city described in (a) above except (i) at approved shooting ranges or (ii) on or within private property with permission of the owner or legal possessor thereof when conducted with reasonable care to prevent a projectile from crossing the bounds of the property. For purposes of this subsection, "pneumatic gun" means any implement designed as a gun that will expel a BB or a pellet by action of pneumatic pressure, including but not limited to paintball guns. Further, for the purpose of this subsection "reasonable care" means that the pneumatic gun is discharged in a manner so the projectile is contained on the property by a backstop, earthen embankment or fence. The discharge of projectiles across or over the bounds of the property shall create the rebuttable presumption that the use of the pneumatic gun was not conducted with reasonable care and shall constitute a Class 3 misdemeanor. “
Virginia Beach Police Sergeant Adam Bernstein released the following statement with regards to this incident:
We understand that a number of juveniles possess air soft guns and have “airsoft gun” wars with each other, but as it relates to the city code referenced above, they are in violation of the code if the juveniles are not exercising “reasonable care”. Also keep in mind that this is not something that we proactively seek out to enforce. If we receive a complaint (such as in the case for which you are doing the story on), we will investigate the call for service and enforce it appropriately, i.e. warning or prosecution. We want to stress to the parents of the juveniles and the operators of these type of “pneumatic guns” that they need to be handled responsibly and with reasonable care to ensure that the projectile is properly contained.
WAVY.com wants to know what you think about the school's decision to suspend the students. Leave your comments below.
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