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A 13-year-old boy who fired an assault rifle inside a Joplin middle school Monday was charged Tuesday with first-degree assault, armed criminal action and making terrorist threats. The charges were brought by the Jasper County juvenile office. The student fired one shot from an assault rifle into the ceiling of Joplin Memorial Middle School. Nobody was injured and he left after his gun jammed. Police quickly detained the boy. On Tuesday, KSMU's Missy Shelton spoke with the superintendent of schools in Joplin Jim Simpson about the incident.
Shelton: When did you hear about this?
Simpson: I was visiting an elementary school that morning so I got a call almost immediately that there was a person with a gun in the middle school. So I went immediately there. And that's how I got involved and was there shortly after the police made the arrest.
Shelton: When you heard this sort of thing had happened in your district, what was your reaction?
Simpson: My reaction was, when I first got the call was that there had been so many horrific shootings in the last two weeks in public schools, I was thinking to myself, "Surely Joplin would not be on that list." As I got closer to the school and pulled into the parking lot, I could see there were a large number of police cars in the area, I knew it was serious. My heart pounding as I went to the building thinking, "I hope no one's injured."
Shelton: Is there a cautionary tale here for other school districts of similar size or districts that think, "This won't happen in our district?"
Simpson: I believe it's a society cautionary tale. The way information is distributed in our modern society, a student can study, dream, plan terribly violent acts and it can happen anywhere. It doesn't matter what town or city. It doesn't matter if you have a good school. A student can silently be plotting to do terrible violence. And they have all the information they need through the internet. They can get all the manuals they need and they can bond with previous atrocities. It can happen anywhere so the cautionary tale is anywhere, anytime, somebody can walk into your building and do terrible violence. That's the reality we live with.
Shelton: Do you think this has permanently changed the Joplin school district?
Simpson: Yes. We now have to decide at what level of compromise in terms of personal freedom of motion and movement do we want to do to protect our students. How many layers of security are we going to place at the entrances to our buildings. Of course, when you do that, you're also making it difficult for parents, patrons and students to enter the building. But how many layers are we going to use to protect our students. That's a discussion that will happen in the Joplin community.
Shelton: Do you think things like metal detectors will be part of the conversation? Security cameras, that kind of thing?
Simpson: Yes. I think there are very limited options. You've named them there: metal detectors, security cameras, armed policemen, multiple stages of security to get into the building, restricted entrance based on identification cards. All those things are the short list. The main thing we must look at is with all those in place, we're practically saying we distrust our community, we distrust the members of our community or at least one or two or three. I think any school districts must consider turning schools into minimum security prison environment because that's truly when you put that many levels of security in place, you're sending a terrible message to your community. You think you're sending the message that we're all safe but the message you're also sending is that no one's allowed in here without going through great difficulty. So we have to look at the compromise because this incident has never occurred in the history of Joplin schools and that's well over 100 years. I don't know what we should we do in the future to be safe. Should we go to the extreme is going to be the conversation.
Shelton: I've been speaking with Jim Simpson, superintendent of schools in Joplin.