Almost three dozen gun incidents at SA-area schools in recent years
Majority of districts that had incidents refuse to make police chiefs available
SAN ANTONIO – A six-month investigation by the KSAT 12 Defenders revealed that San Antonio-area public schools have had at least 32 gun incidents at campuses since the start of the 2013 school year.
While nine area school districts reported at least one incident, most of them refused to make their superintendents or police chiefs available to discuss what, if any, steps have been taken to make their campuses safer.
The Defenders did not request interviews with districts that had one or no incidents.
"We are the first district in our area to add a second K-9 unit," said North East Independent School District Police Chief Wally McCampbell.
McCampbell said the addition of the second unit allows officers to randomly search one of the district's middle schools or high schools every single day.
Last September, a random search in the parking lot of Johnson High School led officers to a stolen handgun and marijuana in the trunk of a student's car.
McCampbell said the K-9 unit, as well as the purchase of 100 hand held wands, came after the highly publicized Brendan Tarwater incident in April 2014.
Tarwater, then a sophomore at Madison High School, brought an AK-47, two handguns, ammunition and a large hunting knife onto campus.
The rifle was later found stashed in a trash can, while the handguns, ammunition and knife were found in a backpack with Tarwater in a classroom.
"The intent, the planning he took to place the weapons where they were, that's probably the closest I've ever been in a school setting, knowing that we very possibly could have been the next school that had a shooting on our campus," said McCampbell.
Tarwater's mother, Becky Tarwater, described the incident publicly for the first time ever during an interview with The Defenders.
"I will tell you that Brendan is not a bad person, that Brendan was being bullied regularly there, that we didn't have guns lying around our house and to the best of our knowledge he had no access," said Becky Tarwater.
She said her son found a key to the family's gun safe and left the home around 6 a.m. the morning of the incident.
Becky Tarwater said she and her husband went to the school and found their son asleep in a classroom.
She described the backpack as "heavy" and said she and her husband turned it over to officers after seeing that there were weapons inside it.
She said the couple had made the decision to admit Brendan to a psychiatric facility before he was arrested.
"We realized he was in crisis, that he was crying for help," said Becky Tarwater.
NEISD records provided by the Tarwater family show that Brendan has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Becky Tarwater said her son also has battled depression.
"I think the district failed Brendan. I think I failed Brendan. I think society failed Brendan," said Becky Tarwater. "He has stumbled through life trying to figure people out."
Three years before his arrest, Brendan appeared in a documentary called "Coping to Excelling."
The film, which showed school-age children grappling with autism, included an interview with Brendan in a chapter titled "Bullying."
During the interview, he said that bullies should be "persecuted."
Becky Tarwater, who said her son was a constant target of bullies, said her biggest regret is not home-schooling him.
His family said Brendan had never fired any of the three weapons he brought to Madison High School and had no knowledge of how to operate the AK-47.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice agreed to make Brendan available for an interview for this story in early May, before canceling it after he was moved to a psychiatric unit.
He was sentenced to eight years in prison in August 2015 after agreeing to plead no contest to two felony counts of possession of a firearm on school premises.
The Tarwater family said the judge who presided over their son's case could have placed Brendan in a mentally ill offenders program that would have kept him out of prison, but opted not to.
Brendan Tarwater, now 20, is projected to be released from prison in February 2019.
"He's still a 17-year-old with no social skills. That's not going to change until we get more for him," said Becky Tarwater.
San Antonio Independent School District, which has had a combined five incidents of students bringing guns into classrooms and adults being arrested with weapons near campuses since the fall of 2013, has embraced a community policing approach.
"I want to tell parents, Your kids are safe with us. They really are, but we need the collaboration of everyone to continue,'" said SAISD Police Chief Joe Curiel.
Bandera ISD, which had a gun incident this past school year, declined to make its superintendent available for this story.
A spokeswoman said the district "increased surveillance cameras and increased canine detection services" after the incident, but she did not provide specifics.
Judson ISD and South San ISD both would not make their superintendents and police chiefs available and instead said their public information officers were the only employees from the district available to speak on camera.
A spokeswoman for Southside ISD, which had five incidents, said its superintendent and police chief were unavailable for comment but that its gun policies "are solid when it comes to prevention and prosecution."
Northside ISD, which had six gun incidents, decided to "respectfully decline the opportunity for an on-camera" interview and instead released the following statement:
Any incident of a weapon on campus is of great concern to us. Northside ISD does not tolerate any weapons violation on district property, including campus parking lots where a significant number of incidents have occurred. These violations do result in arrest and/or disciplinary action being taken.
NISD's response included a statement that the following safety measures now in place:
- Certified Northside ISD police officers are assigned to middle schools (1) and high schools (2) and provide patrol and on-campus support to all elementary schools.
- Bullet-resistant security lobbies provide one supervised entry point for visitors to a significant number of elementary campuses.
- Interior and exterior security cameras provide consistent monitoring at NISD facilities.
- Staff members are made aware of specific safety plans and protocols and these are routinely practiced at the campus level
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