Gun found near middle school but police, school officials don't tell parents
Email about 'suspicious object' went out to Winnipeg parents last week
Some St. Boniface parents want to know why police and school officials didn't tell them a rifle was found near their children's school.
The firearm was found by a Grade 5 student, lying on the ground on a residential property adjacent to École Henri-Bergeron in St. Boniface on Sept. 12.
The student alerted a staff member, who in turn reported it to the school office. The Winnipeg Police Service was called in to investigate and secure it.
But in a written statement that went out to parents on the school portal from the principal later that day, there was no mention of a gun.
"This afternoon, during lunch recess, a student, who was on school property, noticed a suspicious object on a residential property," the letter says.
At no point were students or staff in any danger, it says.
Some parents want to know why they found out about the gun from their children, not from the school division or police.
Letter prompts questions
Tasha Woodhouse, who has two nine-year-old girls in Grade 5 at Henri-Bergeron, said the letter from the office made her want to know what the "suspicious object" was. Her daughters told her it was a gun.
"It definitely made me ask the question 'Was it touched? Where was it found?" Questions like that. 'Where did it come from?' "
The school should have told parents it was a long gun, she said.
"I feel that is information that should be shared with the public. I think they should have shared what they found was a gun. I am hoping we will get more information," she said.
We need to know what is going on so we can be part of the solution- Community member Marion Willis
School division officials said they weren't certain right away that the object was a rifle, although they knew later the same day.
"At the time of writing, developing correspondence for the parents, we hadn't yet with clarity confirmed with the WPS what we should be communicating," said Christian Michalik, superintendent of the Louis Riel School Division.
They decided not to tell parents after consulting with police.
"We were going back and forth with the Winnipeg Police Service and chose not to share the specificity of what was found."
Michalik commended the students for following protocol they were taught at school regarding personal safety.
Marion Willis is disturbed by the fact parents weren't told by the school or police about the gun.
She is raising her great-grand-daughter, who is in Grade 4 at Henri-Bergeron.
"As a parent and care provider, I had the right to know it was a firearm. What alarms me is we weren't told what it was," she said. "It leads me to wonder if there maybe a bit of censorship in what the public is being told."
Willis is also the founder and director of St. Boniface Street Links, which operates Morberg House, a shelter for men battling addiction. Street Links has worked hard in the St. Boniface area to involve the area in activities that support crime prevention, she said.
"The police are pushing to work with communities at the street level. They want people to engage with them. We need to know what is going on so we can be part of the solution," she said.
The Winnipeg Police Service also decided not to inform the community and the public at large about the gun.
Const. Rob Carver said making such information public would unreasonably alarm people.
The unloaded gun was old, possibly from the Second World War, not linked to criminal action, and not a threat, Carver said.
But Willis disagrees with the idea that making the information public will create alarm.
"You have to let the community know what is going on so citizens have a good reason to be engaged. It doesn't alarm a community, it makes them active and mobilizes them in a good way," she said.
The information could spark parent-child conversations about the issue and make people more alert to what is going on in their community, she said.
In retrospect, Michalik wonders if anything should have been done differently.
He wasn't aware parents had concerns until he spoke to the CBC, he said, and he'd like parents with concerns to contact him.
The principal at the school visited each classroom to talk with students about what they saw or heard concerning last week's incident, he also said.
Shortly after Michalik was interviewed by CBC, a second email was sent out to parents identifying the object as a rifle, five days after the incident.
'I don't feel angry'
Woodhouse said she feels reassured after contacting the principal and having a conversation with him.
"I don't feel angry. I did get my questions answered. I trust they are doing what they need to make sure our children are safe. I think though they should be more transparent," Woodhouse said.
As for the gun, police said it does not belong to the owners of the property where it was found.
The serial number is being used to track down the owner, Carver said.