SIDNEY — A first responder’s unsecured gun at a Sidney elementary school was a subject of discussion for the second time when a former school employee voiced concerns during the Sidney City Schools Board of Education meeting, Monday.
Mike Epperly, of Sidney, brought up the incident, which school leadership says occurred at Emerson Elementary School on May 20, involving a gun that was not in the gun safe, where it belonged. Epperly claims the incident took place May 25. He said he had 15 questions relating to the incident. He said a month has passed since the last BOE meeting, without sufficient answers to his questions.
Each building in the Sidney City Schools District has a first responder team, who, in the case of an emergency with an armed intruder, have access to weapons, which are secured in biometric safes. Only first responder team members can open the safes.
During a phone discussion Thursday made by the Sidney Daily News to clarify Epperly’s concerns, Epperly said the matter of the unsecured gun had come to his attention, May 25, when a staff member told him that he had found a gun. Epperly was the Emerson Elementary principal at that time.
“I went to the room and found it myself,” said Epperly. “I identified the problem and called the security officer and the sheriff’s office.”
Subsequently, all the doors at the building were closed, and he secured the room where the gun was located, said Epperly. The security officer arrived at the building and took care of the gun.
Epperly said after the incident occurred, he gathered more information from the staff member before notifying the Superintendent John Scheu by email on May 26. Scheu, who was on vacation at the time, responded via email to Epperly on June 9.
When asked by the Daily News for a timeline of the event, Scheu emailed that the situation started on May 20, when the school security officer removed all the guns from the building because summer vacation was starting. May 20 was the last day of school for the students. When the officer got home, according to Scheu, he realized that one of the guns had been left in a case on a table behind the locked, mechanical equipment room.
A custodian informed Epperly there was a gun left in a case in the mechanical equipment room that day, wrote Scheu.
“Since there were no students or teachers in the building after hours on Friday (May 20),” wrote Scheu, “he decided to wait until the next day — Saturday, May 21 — to retrieve the unloaded gun along with the other guns collected on Friday and store for the summer.”
“My concern, that I expressed at the meeting, was: how could the gun have been removed on May 21 when it wasn’t discovered until May 25?” Epperly told the Daily News.
Epperly took his questions to the board meeting because, he said, he had requested an executive session to discuss the issue privately with the BOE, but the request was denied.
“I wanted to talk about the layers of my concerns and protocol,” said Epperly. “I was denied an executive session, so my only other recourse was to go public. It was never my intention to go public with this. I was only able to talk to one board member and couldn’t reach the other four.”
During Monday’s meeting, Epperly said, “The gun was left in a locked room which was typically unlocked. I waited from May 26 to June 9 to receive proper answers. The board of education members had no knowledge of the incident. Learning the gun was left out was an accident. The lack of communication is not an accident. You must take safety steps to ensure that this never happens again. You should do a review of the safety plans with the teacher team members. To not deal with it sets a dangerous precedent.”
“This problem is not being overlooked,” said Board President Bill Ankney. “The weapons have to be nonnegotiable on how they are handled. We will continue to handle that situation. Right now we’re in a ‘he said, she said’ situation. You’ll be kept informed of the results. Everybody will know about it.”
“The issue of the unloaded weapon left in a locked room has been thoroughly researched and dealt with,” said Scheu after the meeting, “and at no time was any student or staff member in danger. We continue to have some of the safest and secure school buildings anywhere around.”
Scheu said he investigated the matter on June 9, when he had returned from vacation, and that Eric Finke, director of buildings and grounds had also investigated. Scheu had talked with the security officer who told him that he had “put the gun in the case, unloaded, in the mechanical equipment room across from the library on the last day of school and locked the door. He got busy the rest of the day and did not immediately put the gun back in the safe until the next day,” Scheu said.
As a result, Scheu considers the case closed.
He suggested that Epperly could have put the gun away, himself.
“The principal of the building and school security officer share in the responsibility of accounting for all guns and safes in the building and making sure everything is secured,” wrote Scheu. “I have emails I exchanged with both Mr. Epperly and Mr. Finke verifying the account I just stated. Mr. Epperly, who was a member of the first responder team at Emerson, when notified by the custodian late Friday afternoon, had the responsibility of placing the unloaded gun in the biometric safe which he had access to. Instead, he continues to choose his course of action to blame others when he himself, when notified of this situation, should have taken the initiative and placed the gun where it belonged. This was neglectful on his part.”
This indicent happened at approximately the same time Epperly resigned from Sidney City Schools following his reassignment by Scheu to an assistant principal’s position.
“I am not sure what point a disgruntled and ineffective former principal is trying to make,” said Scheu in a written statement following the meeting.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.