In Our Opinion: Prosecutor’s Letter About FHS Gun Incident Raises More Questions, Does A Disservice To Parents

As we have stated before, nature abhors a vacuum.

Especially, we might add, when it’s an information vacuum.

Because when there is a lack of information about a subject in which people are vitally interested – and when they have a right to that information – it’s human nature to fill the void with rumor, supposition and innuendo.

And that’s never constructive.

That’s why the Feb. 28 letter from Somerset County Prosecutor Michael Roberts – published on the school district’s web site – concerning the Feb. 23 loaded gun incident at Franklin High School is so disappointing.

Rather than putting the issue to rest and alleviating parents’ fears, the letter instead raises even more questions about the seriousness of any potential threat caused by z student having a gun in school, and how forthcoming authorities have been in disclosing a potential threat to the public.

To recap, on Feb 23, members of a SCPO task force received information that a 17-year-old FHS student was going to school with a gun. The detectives notified Franklin Township Police, and both agencies dispatched teams to the high school.

Once there, authorities met with school administrators, and, with the help of the School Resource Officer, found the student in question, removed him from a classroom to a “safe room” and, after securing a search warrant, found a loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun in his backpack.

On Feb. 23, we were assured by the prosecutor through a press release and by the school district – after administrators were cleared by the prosecutor to release information – that “at no time” did the presence of the gun pose a threat to students or staff.

Remember that phrase: “At no time.”

The 17-year-old student – who at this point is being treated as a juvenile, so his identity is being withheld – was hit with two charges: 2nd Degree Unlawful Possession of a Weapon and 2nd Degree Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose.

The first charge is totally understandable. We’ll come back to that second charge in a moment.

In his Feb. 28 letter, Roberts seems to qualify his “at no time” assertion. In the letter, he writes, “… at no time was there an immediate threat (emphasis ours) to the students or faculty.”

Roberts goes on to write, “… law enforcement had specific and reliable information on who had the firearm, where it was located and the reason for why (sic) the student possessed the firearm.” He later repeated his assertion that “at no time did law enforcement feel or have reason to believe there was an immediate threat to the safety and welfare of students and faculty.”

“At no time” was there an “immediate threat.”

Under New Jersey Code, 2nd Degree Possession of a Weapon for Unlawful Purposes is defined thusly: “a.Firearms. (1) Any person who has in his possession any firearm with a purpose to use it unlawfully against the person or property of another is guilty of a crime of the second degree.”

That could mean anything from threatening someone to planning a robbery or carjacking.

So here’s our first question, one we posed to the prosecutor’s spokesman, but have yet to receive an answer: What does the prosecutor mean by “immediate threat?” Could it be that the threat was for some action on the part of the gun-toting youth later in the day? Remember, according to Roberts’ letter, authorities knew why he had the gun.

And while we’re on that, here’s our second question: Why, exactly, did the student have the gun?

And finally, if there was no threat – as was asserted on Feb. 23 and Feb. 28 – why was the youth charged with a crime only triggered when a person has a gun and is posing a threat “against the person or property of another?”

Is this another reason for Roberts’ use of the phrase “immediate threat?” Did police have information that he was planning something later in the day?

Now, it’s possible that all these questions are easily answered, and would lead to the conclusion that there actually was no threat, and that this was just some knucklehead who brought a loaded gun to school. In fact, we hope that’s the case; we hope our suspicions are unfounded.

But this information vacuum caused by the prosecutor’s refusal to answer even the most basic of questions does nothing to alleviate our suspicions or the fears of parents who have a right to know if their children were actually in danger that day.

There are times when the public doesn’t need to know certain details of crimes, or near-crimes; when the release of some information by law enforcement would serve no real purpose.

This is not one of those times. Franklin Township parents and students have a right to know what the significance is of the student being charged with a crime that implies a threat, and why that student had a gun in his backpack.

Prosecutor Roberts, just answer the questions.


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