Possible target practice near Jones Co. elementary school prompts increased security

Possible target practice near Jones Co. elementary school prompts increased security

JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Security is being increased at a Jones County school after a resident believed to be shooting a gun for target practice prompted a school lock down last week, according to the superintendent.

Jones County Superintendent Tommy Parker said that North Jones Elementary school was put on a 20 minute lock down last Friday after 10 to 12 gunshots were heard in the woods near the campus.

"It was loud," Parker said. "Parents in the car line could hear it and so could the principal."

Parker said the principal notified the district office immediately and locked down the school.

"The Jones County Sheriff and their deputies arrived on scene minutes later and secured the area around the school," Parker said.

According to Parker, no students were outside at the time the shots were fired. Parker also said the principal brought the bus drivers and parents in the car line inside while deputies searched the woods.

Deputies combed through the woods and around the campus, but could not find anyone with a gun or any shell casings. Parker said deputies gave the all clear and secured the area while students loaded the buses.

"Car line and buses were delayed by half an hour," Parker said.

According to Parker, the district was unable to alert parents because of two factors.

"One, it was the end of the day on a Friday, so any letter we would have sent had it been ready before closing would not have made it to the parents in time," said Parker. "Secondly, we do not have a student-parent alert system. We are working with our budget and contracts with companies for our strategic planning this year to purchase one."

Parker said had the deputies found a threat or immediate danger to the students, he would have alerted parents.

According to Parker, Jones County Sheriff Alex Hodge has not located any evidence or charged anyone in connection to the shots fired.

"Due to the timing in the school day and no suspect or evidence, the district decided to focus on getting the kids home safely," Parker said.

Parker said the district is taking extra precautions this week, and hoped those living near the campus would consider the area before target practicing.

"No responsible adult should target practice near a school. Period," Parker said. "The occurrence was a random, inopportunely timed event and we will have deputies on campus to help parents and students feel more secure."

Assuming the person who fired the gun is found, according to a state concealed carry instructor, no laws may have been broken.

Investigator Jake Driskell with the Laurel Police Department teaches concealed carry classes in South Mississippi.

According to Mississippi Code 45-9-53, state law allows counties and municipalities to regulate where firearms are discharged. It is also a felony in the state of Mississippi to carry a weapon on school property.

Although state law allows regulation, not all counties and municipalities have ordinances regarding where weapons can be discharged. As far as the felony is concerned, the charge only applies to those without a specific permit and are on the property in question. The law does not specify distance around or near the school.

According to Driskell, the shots fired near the school falls into a gray area.

"Technically anyone with an enhanced firearms permit can carry on a school or near it according to state law," said Driskell.

Driskell said the wooded area around the school could also be private property or 16-section leased land.

"Sixteen-section leased land is specifically for people who want a place to hunt or shoot, and if it is your private property and you live in the county you can legally target practice or discharge a fire arm," Driskell said.

Driskell said that the only way to violate a law with a weapon near a school campus is by shooting recklessly, shooting at the school, shooting on a property that is marked or labeled a firearm free zone, or shooting a weapon within city limits, which would fall under municipal ordinances, not county ordinances.

According to The Jones County Board of Supervisors and the Jones County Sheriff's Department, there is no ordinance or law in Jones County regarding discharging weapons near or within a certain distance of a school campus.

Even if the county had an ordinance, Driskell said the distance would most likely be limited to 1500 feet of the school, like church ordinances.

"Like we say in our classes, if you want to use a firearm you go to the county," said Driskell. "You can legally target practice in a county."

According to Driskell, had the shots been fired close to the school, shell casings would have most likely been recovered.

"You can hear a gun shot depending on the terrain within a quarter mile of the shooter," Driskell said. "There is no telling how far away the shots were fired."