A 13-year-old Kansas student has been charged with a felony after making a gun shape with her fingers and pointing at other students, authorities said.
The incident happened Sept. 18 at Westridge Middle School in Overland Park, Kansas, about 20 minutes outside of Kansas City.
The student had been asked by another student to point out “five people you would kill,” Overland Park Chief of Police Frank Donchez told BuzzFeed News, and then indicated toward those students with a finger-gun gesture before pointing toward her own head.
Several of the students reported the incident that night through the Shawnee Mission School District’s website, which allows students and families to report bullying anonymously, Donchez said.
After receiving the reports, Westridge Middle School principal Jeremy McDonnell interviewed the 13-year-old student and those who witnessed the incident and then contacted the school resource officer.
“[The officer] then determined that several of the students are genuinely fearful of this girl, and combined with prior knowledge that he has, felt that an arrest was warranted,” Donchez said.
Donchez said he could not comment on the student’s prior disciplinary history because she is a minor. Calls to both the middle school and school district were not returned Saturday.
The student is now facing a criminal threat charge and was taken to a juvenile detention center. The Johnson County District Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The girl’s grandfather, Jon Cavanaugh, who lives in California, says he was told his granddaughter could face up to a year in juvenile detention and told the Kansas City Star he’s “worried about [his] granddaughter’s future.”
“I think that this is something that probably could have been handled in the principal’s office and got completely out of hand,” Cavanaugh said. “She was just mouthing off.”
According to the Kansas City Star, the girl is now living with her grandfather in California.
Donchez disputed reports that the student was arrested simply for making a hand gesture.
“Victims in this case were genuinely concerned and fearful of this individual,” he said. “When you combine that with the history that we’re aware of, and the students are aware of, when you combine all that and that these individuals were genuinely in fear, that’s why the arrest was made.”
He also refuted reports that the student was handcuffed in the school and “paraded” out by officers, noting that she was handcuffed outside of the school for her own safety and that of the arresting officer.
“I’ll take the heat all day long for arresting a 13-year-old,” Donchez said. “I’m not willing to take the heat for not preventing a school tragedy.”
The Westridge Middle School incident is not the first of its kind. A Colorado first-grader was suspended in 2015 for making a finger gun and telling a classmate “You’re dead.” In 2014, a 10-year-old in Ohio was also suspended for reportedly pointing a finger gun at another student’s head. In 2018, a Pennsylvania man was found guilty of disorderly conduct for pointing a finger gun at his neighbor. However, this latest incident appeared to be the first finger-gun incident to result in a felony charge.