Tununak teens threatened attack on school thwarted

Posted: Friday, November 08, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Three 14-year-old boys who said they were tired of being picked on took guns to their school in the Western Alaska village of Tununak on Wednesday and threatened to kill fellow students but were stopped before anyone was harmed, Alaska State Troopers said.

One boy hid an unloaded .22-caliber rifle in his pant leg and took it into the school, troopers said. Another boy carried in a loaded pellet handgun, according to troopers.

Other students notified school authorities at about the same time a Tununak resident tipped off the village public safety officer and they worked together to prevent any shootings, VPSO Ben Nukusuk said.

''We were able to get the situation under control before anything happened,'' he said.

The incident was reminiscent of two events in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, one with a similar peaceful outcome. The other rocked the state.

In January, a 15-year-old Tununak boy took two rifles and ammunition to school and threatened to shoot teachers and students and kill himself. The boy was taken into custody without incident.

In early 1997, 17-year-old Evan Ramsey carried a shotgun into Bethel Regional High School, about 115 miles east of Tununak, and opened fire, killing a student and the school principal. Ramsey was sentenced to 210 years in prison. Two other students were charged as accomplices.

Nukusuk said he can't understand why Tununak, a village of 325 people on the shore of Nelson Island, has been hit twice this year by similar incidents.

''This crazy thing is getting to be more common, and that's troubling,'' he said.

Wednesday afternoon, Nukusuk was walking toward Albert T. Paul Memorial School, a K-12 school with about 100 students, at the far end of town when a Tununak resident told him of the teens' plans. He said he called two former deputies for help, then quickly got to the school.

Authorities there had heard the same warnings from students and had put emergency plans into place, locking down the school, said Kent Harding, safety coordinator of Lower Kuskokwim School District.

Nuksuk cornered the three teens and talked them into handing over the guns. Volunteers helped him take the teens to the jail.

Two of the teens were taken to Bethel on Wednesday and were arraigned in juvenile court Thursday. They originally were to be charged with making terroristic threats and weapons misconduct, both felonies, but instead were charged with a lower level of weapons misconduct, a misdemeanor. The third boy was to be arraigned in Bethel later this week.

Harding said bullying and harassment exists at all junior and senior high schools, including Tununak's, but he has never heard that the village has excessive problems. This year the school has a full-time social worker, a position that was funded in part because of the gun incident last January.

''If there is harassment, it should be reported. It shouldn't go this far without being reported,'' Harding said.

He and other people have no explanation for why Tununak students seem to turn so readily to guns to solve their problems.

''It certainly gets everyone's attention,'' he said.

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