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Indian River teacher stops possible tragedy at school

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PHILADELPHIA — Quick action by Indian River Central School science teacher Robert M. Kuba is being credited with averting tragedy in the classroom Wednesday.

In his more than 20 years as a teacher, Mr. Kuba had never experienced serious threats in his classroom and had never received formal training in self-defense or in how to respond to a gunman, but on Wednesday he disarmed a 15-year-old student carrying a rifle and held him for authorities.

“You just react. It happened so quickly,” Mr. Kuba said.

The boy had arrived at Mr. Kuba’s seventh-period earth science class with the rifle in its case concealed under a blanket. He told his teacher he had an experiment in conduction, a subject the class had covered the week before, to show him. Mr. Kuba asked the student to wait until the end of class, and about three minutes before the period ended, the student brought the package to the front of the classroom to the instructional table. The student put the package on the floor with his back to his classmates and leaned down to get the rifle.

“When he pulled back the blanket, I saw the rifle case and immediately questioned why he would be bringing anything in one of those. Then, when he opened the case, I saw the rifle and I reached for it,” Mr. Kuba said.

Mr. Kuba said that with one hand he held the barrel of the rifle away from the students and with the other pushed the student’s body away from the weapon. He then led the student to the back of the classroom, put him in the chemical storage room and called the main office.

“The officer and the principal were there in less than a minute,” Mr. Kuba said.

Jefferson County Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau said the rifle was loaded and was obtained legally, but he wouldn’t say who owned the rifle.

It is still unclear where the student kept the rifle before going to his science class. Detective David J. Pustizzi said he couldn’t say where the rifle had been stored, but it had been in the school all day before the student brought it to Mr. Kuba’s classroom.

“We still have a lot of interviews left to conduct to put together what happened between when the student left the house in the morning and who he talked to in school before going to that classroom,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Mr. Pustizzi said because of the student’s age it is doubtful, even after the investigation is completed, that police will be able to give out more details behind the events at the school. He said he couldn’t state whether the teenager had been charged or whether he was still in police custody. He said that the student is “not in the public” and that generally bringing a weapon to a school is a felony.

It is still unclear what kind of rifle it was or what exactly the student planned to do. But Mr. Pustizzi said the young man told him he had been planning to bring the gun to the school for months and had a “very detailed plan.”

Mr. Kuba said the student had never caused any trouble in class before, he was a good student and the teacher wasn’t aware of anyone bullying him.

“There are a lot of questions out there. It isn’t like Google where you can get the answer quickly. Answers are going to come from investigation,” Mr. Kuba said.

The student’s classmates, who met with school administrators Thursday morning, were concerned only with how their classmate was doing, Mr. Kuba said.

Indian River Central School Superintendent James Kettrick said when that classes began on Thursday, he made an announcement commending the students and the faculty for their actions.

“The principal reviewed what happened over the loudspeaker and then told them the day would be going on as a normal school day,” Mr. Kettrick said. “We have a second deputy sheriff at the school and there are support services for the students who need them.”

Mr. Kettrick said he is grateful for the work of Mr. Kuba, who he said handled the situation very well.

“It’s really important for anyone who has suspicions about someone coming into a school or any children’s functions that they not take it lightly; report it to authorities right away,” Mr. Pustizzi said. “It’s thanks to the quick action of a teacher (that) really helped peacefully end this situation. It could have been much worse.”

On Thursday night at the Indian River capital project public information meeting, security was one of the subjects addressed for the proposed $33,211,700 building project.

District Business Manager James R. Koch said state aid and building aid will cover the projects and there should be no effect on school taxes. As well as security upgrades, the proposals call for increasing classroom space at the high school, switching the middle and high schools to geothermal energy, adding a synthetic turf field to the football field; adding eight classrooms and expanding the cafeteria and increasing parking space at Evans Mills Primary School.

Mr. Koch said the specific security arrangements have not been decided, but the capital project has a budget for upgrades such as new locks and more security cameras. The upgrades primarily would be installed at the middle school and high school.

“Obviously with what happened just a few days ago there are some concerns (from) the high school folks who have been with us; we’re also getting some input from police about what is already in place and probably (will) have more information,” Mr. Koch said.

Mr. Kettrick said there are other plans, in place before the incident Wednesday morning, for security training. A demonstration by Michael Hauck of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, titled “School Violence: Active Shooter Awareness,” is planned for March 17.

Since Wednesday, Mr. Kettrick said, he’s been fielding questions from parents, students and community members, some of whom he can’t comfort with answers.

“In light of this being less than 36 hours old, I think people in our district have come together,” Mr. Kettrick said.

Raeanne LaFave said her daughter was in the seventh-period classroom where the other student brought the gun.

“She was there and she saw the gun in her classroom,” Mrs. LaFave said. “I know the students were talked to by administrators, but will there be something like that for the parents?”

Mrs. LaFave said she still has many questions about the disturbing incident, but she feels the quick action of Mr. Kuba saved lives on Wednesday.

Mr. Kettrick said he understands the frustration of community members whose questions he can’t answer, but overall the community has been very supportive of the school, the students and their families.

The capital project will go before voters Wednesday. A full overview of the proposed project is available on the school’s website, www.ircsd.org.

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