Middletown high school principal Carmela Cotter talks about the gun incident they had at their school and how students made the right decision by telling a teacher about the gun.

Fighting the anti-snitch culture in schools

2 Madison students charged for failure to report a crime

At Madison Jr./Sr. High School Monday morning a teen suspect shot and wounded four classmates with two being hospitalized.

Prior to the shooting, police say James Austin Hancock, an the eighth grader at Madison, showed the loaded handgun to two boys who did not report the weapon to school officials prior to the shooting in the school’s cafeteria.

On Friday, the two 14-year-old Madison boys were charged with not reporting the armed student suspect.

Butler County Sheriff’s deputies have said a Madison student was rushing to tell an administrator about the gun when the shooting happened.

That student is not one of the two charged.

Later that same day in the adjacent Middletown School system – after the Madison shooting and news about it had spread on social media, a student at the city’s high school also flashed a loaded handgun to classmates. A student told a teacher and the boy was quickly confronted by school security and arrested.

Both gun-related incidents – and other threats of school violence locally and nationwide – come at a time when police, school officials and school parents find themselves increasingly trying to combat a “no-snitch” culture among some youth.

Every school violence case and circumstances around it varies.

Both Madison and Middletown had at least one, if not more, students trying to do the right thing in notifying school officials. The warning from a student came too late for Madison officials to act on it.

And in the days following the Madison shooting, the tide of anti-informant sentiment among some local students showed some signs of abating.

On Friday, Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones announced the arrest of another Madison student who had brought knives disguised as credit cards to the school. And that two Edgewood School students had also been arrested – one for threatening to bring a gun to school and the other for making threats on social media.

But Jones said “I want to commend those who came forward and told someone. It was a brave, important thing to do. These incidents were handled quickly.”

And he sharply criticized those students who didn’t alert school officials.

“These boys had knowledge that the suspect, James Austin Hancock, had the gun at school, and they did not tell anyone,” said Jones. “I have to stress, it is imperative that if there is rumor or first-hand knowledge about any type of weapon or weapons that someone has or is intending to bring to school, it has to be reported to someone.”

Maj. Mike Craft said the two 14-year-olds charged were not part of any conspiracy or plan for the shooting.

“They had no knowledge that this kid would do anything with the gun,” Craft said. “This is a public service more than anything. You just have to tell someone when you see things like this.”

The boys were not taken into custody, but were given a citation and must appear in Butler County Juvenile Court. Rob Clevenger, juvenile court administrator said the boys are scheduled to be arraigned March 10 in juvenile court.

AJ Huff, spokeswoman for Madison schools, had no comment on the charges Friday morning, but said the district is asking anyone with first-hand knowledge of any crime to report it to police.

“We’re asking everyone to help in keeping our kids safe, not just staff, teachers and parents, but even our students,” Huff said. “If we can all do this together, we can all move forward together.”

Jones said schools are supposed to be safe for children and anyone working there.

“Parents should not be afraid to send their kids to school,” he said. “I strongly urge parents to sit and talk to their kids about how important this is.”

During a press conference Friday afternoon, Jones said the investigation into Madison’s school shooting is evolving.

The sheriff indicated the shooting suspect got the gun from a relative, but that person was unaware of the theft.

“We know who the gun was taken from, and they had no idea it was stolen,” he said, adding there will be no charges against that person.

Jones also indicated they have a motive for the shooting, but would not comment on that information.

“Everybody in that cafeteria was injured, psychologically,” Jones said, adding he hoped never to have to call another press conference about “kids and guns and schools.”

“It’s been a tough week for everybody in that school, in that area,” Jones said. “They still have to go to school; the parents have anxiety.”

Jones said parents need to talk with their children in case they had any prior knowledge of the crime.

“We’re not going to put up with it; your kids will be kicked out of school,” Jones said.

“Kids sometimes think this is funny and they get a lot of attention,” Jones said. “I want to assure you … this is not a good time to be joking about guns and blowing things up.”

FIGHTING THE ANTI-SNITCH CULTURE

Former Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen says the arrests of two Madison students who failed to report the student shooting suspect is the latest local evidence of the “anti-snitch” mentality among some teens.

“It mirrors what is going in our culture in general,” said Allen, who now heads a private legal practice in Cincinnati.

Youth, especially young boys, are reluctant “to rat” on their friends, says Allen.

Allen blames violent video games and “a hip-hop music culture” that is saturated with lyrics that denigrate police and anyone who cooperates with them in fighting crime.

“Kids are getting the worse of that stuff. They are subjected to everything on the Internet, and it’s so easy to play (violent) video games and blow up half the world,” he says. “About anything goes anymore.”

How to reverse those sensibilities of non-cooperation with police and school officials, “is the $64,000 question,” says Allen.

“I’m not advocating any kind of censorship (video games, music) but more individual responsibility.”

“And schools should explain this as much humanly as possible that when a young man comes to school with a loaded gun, students need to tell someone. (Butler County) Sheriff Jones made the right decision in charging the two boys. If nothing else it sends a strong message.”

Sending strong messages building student and staff relationships is what Middletown High School Principal Carmela Cotter says her school system stresses.

Cotter credits those informal relationships for helping avoid potentially deadly violence in her school Monday when a student alerted a teacher about an armed classmate.

News on Monday morning’s shooting in Madison spread quickly on social media and helped to prompt the Middletown student to act.

A loaded 9mm Beretta semi-automatic handgun was found when the officer searched the suspect student’s backpack. The student was arrested and is facing charges of inducing panic and carrying a concealed weapon.

“Unfortunately, our world is a frightening and scary place for young people today and they have to work in that. They are hearing about things (Madison’s shooting) as they are unfolding,” says Cotter.

One of the keys “is building a trust with our students because we just respond immediately to anything they bring to our attention.”

“It is so important to be listening to young people right now. They will talk with us when we give them the time to talk. It’s really important to build that type of relationship with them so they feel free to bring concerns” says Cotter.

Alison Gay, mental health supervisor at the Middletown branch of Community Behavioral Health, said if parents “instill a strong sense of right and wrong from a very young age, then the kid will snitch even if he’s scared because he knows that what the outcome could be is much scarier.”

Mary Ann Morris, whose son, Donnie, is a freshman at Madison Jr./Sr. High School said if the students had told authorities they may have stopped the shooting. She said the alleged shooter would probably have been suspended or expelled and his life would have “moved on rather quickly. Now it may be over forever”

She said those students who knew about the gun will have to live with that guilt forever.

Middletown High School freshman Briley(CQ) Dickson says in the wake of Madison’s shooting – and those nationally like Sandy HookElementary’s school massacre and others – more teens are getting the message that “no-snitch” equals no safety.

“I think it’s getting better,” says Briley. “Students are figuring out if you didn’t report something – and somebody gets hurt – you’ll have to live with that the rest of your life.”

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