On Friday night, Knoxville Police arrested a 17-year-old for waving a loaded gun at the Fulton High School football team bus. The incident happened in the parking lot of Austin East High School after the game between the two cross-town rivals.
For parents of the Fulton High School players, the incident has resulted in a combination of praise for the police response and concerns about the depth of overall security at high school football games.
"The game was fabulous. It was a great game until the end," said Elana Hall, mother of a Fulton football player. "Normally the players from Fulton and Austin East all shake hands and huddle together for a prayer when the game is over. Something was different and it stole that experience from both teams' players. The coach told my son and the team that they were not to talk to anybody, do not look at anybody, get your stuff, and get on the bus."
Word began circulating through the crowd that there was a disturbance in the parking lot involving someone with a firearm. The Knoxville Police Department says a 17-year-old male waved a loaded gun at Fulton football players on the team bus.
"Security heard reports of an individual with a gun. They actually saw someone with a weapon. Our officers immediately responded, identified the person, and took that person into custody," said Gary Holiday, deputy chief with the Knoxville Police Department. "Officers arrested the individual without incident. They recovered a .40 caliber handgun. It was loaded. It was loaded and had a full magazine. He was in the parking lot, but never went inside the stadium. The Police were there, thank goodness. We took action. Nobody got hurt and that person was charged."
The 17-year-old is now charged as a juvenile with disorderly conduct and possession of a firearm on school property. KPD says it will not release his name because he is a minor. Police say he lives in the area of Austin-East.
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Knox County Schools said the 17-year-old used to attend Austin-East, but is no longer a student there. Starting in August of this year, KCS said he was listed as a student at the alternative Richard Yoakley School.
"You're sitting in a stadium and you know there's a gun out there somewhere," said Hall. "This is not something where they come over the loudspeaker and announce that they've apprehended a suspect and everything is okay. You're just waiting for gunshots to go off. You don't know what's going to happen."
Hall and other parents praised the response from Police, but say the incident raised concerns about security's ability to handle multiple situations simultaneously.
"We started getting texts from the kids that people were throwing stuff at the bus and rocking the bus. You had people throwing rocks and chunks of cement. I don't want to make it out to be some kind of traumatic situation where all the players are going to need therapy, but it got to the point where the players were actually scared and I hate that for them," said Hall. "I absolutely agree that a firearm takes precedent over other stuff, but it was obvious they were spread too thin to handle everything."
Hall also made it clear she does not believe Austin-East is to blame for the security issues.
"Austin-East deserves better than that. I mean their players work really hard just like our players to have a good football team. Both teams play very hard. I think it is sad that they are not getting the security they deserve. And there are problems at other schools where visiting fans have had tires slashed and all sorts of stuff, so it's not just an Austin-East thing," said Hall. "If you had a more visible presence of security, I think that sends a message that this is not going to happen here. I know there is cost associated with more security, but I believe kids are worth it."
Holiday said he believes the true solution to security starts at home.
"Somewhere there's a parent who should have known their 17-year-old is taking a gun to school on a Friday night. They're the ones that should have acted on that," said Holiday.