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Ohio seventh-grader dies from suspected self-inflicted gunshot wound at school

By Edd Pritchard • Updated Feb 22, 2018 at 8:32 AM

JACKSON TWP. — When sixth-grader Leena Jones heard the announcement of a school lockdown, she and her classmates knew what to do.

That's because Jackson Memorial Middle School students have drilled for instances when a gunman might be at the school. The students secured themselves in locked classrooms. Because she realized it wasn't a drill, it was scary, Leena said.

A Jackson Middle School seventh-grade student was clinging to life Tuesday at Akron Children's Hospital for a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The student, Keith Simons, was taken by helicopter to Akron after being treated at Mercy Medical Center.

Simons died Wednesday, the Summit County Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office told Ohio.com.

Authorities told the Akron Beacon Journal that the Jackson Township boy concealed a .22 rifle under his clothes on his bus ride to school Tuesday morning. Once he arrived, he went to the boys bathroom, where he was found about 7:50 a.m. — 10 minutes before school was scheduled to begin — with what has yet to be confirmed as an accidental or intentional, self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.

The boy reportedly got the gun from his mother’s house and carried it on the bus, concealing it under his clothes. It is unclear who owns the gun.

The incident led to a shut down of all Jackson Local Schools on Tuesday. Classes were set to resume on schedule Wednesday.

"Our goal is to maintain the normalcy of the school day," school officials wrote in a Facebook post.

Additional law enforcement officers will be at each building, as will mental health and counseling teams. The post says any parent who chooses to keep a child home from school will be supported in that decision because the district values its relationships with families.

The teen arrived by bus at the middle school Tuesday morning, Jackson Township Police Chief Mark Brink said. He managed to get a .22-caliber rifle into the school building. The student also had what Brink described as "distractionary devices" in his book bag. He declined to elaborate on what exactly they found.

Reports of items being found in the book bag led to rumors of explosive devices and media reports of material to make an explosive device or Molotov cocktails.

"It is not a bomb, I can tell you that," Brink told a group of reporters later Tuesday.

Brink said he did not know if the shooting was accidental or intentional. Officials hope to have that question answered as they continue investigating.

"That is still being determined, but suicide with a long rifle is complicated and not too common," Stark County Sheriff George Maier said.

When asked if others were involved in the incident, Brink said: "Not that we know of at this point, but that investigation is ongoing."

Jackson schools don't have metal detectors or other devices at the building entrances.

Jackson Local Superintendent Chris DiLoreto said the district's best defense to prevent students from bringing firearms to school is working with parents.

"If you see something, say something," DiLoreto said. "We work closely with law enforcement and mental health agencies. It is very challenging to maintain a public building and guarantee everyone's safety."

Following the incident, Jackson police, Stark County Sheriff's deputies, members of the Canton police department SWAT team and a bomb squad unit from Summit County Sheriff's Office searched the school to ensure no other weapons or devices were in the building. Agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also assisted. Neighbors confirmed there was police presence outside a home on Daytona Street NW later in the afternoon.

Concerned parents converge

Students at the middle school were placed in lockdown around 8 a.m. and released to anxious parents beginning at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Leena Jones walked from the building between her parents Sam and Khadija Jones, and with her two younger brothers. Khadija heard about the incident at the middle school when she took her sons to elementary school and found it closed. Sam received an alert from the school district, so he left work and headed for the school.

Leena said students weren't told why the school had been locked down. After spending some time in classrooms, students were taken into a gymnasium, where they were grouped together before being released to their parents.

Eighth-grader Alex Garcia said school officials wouldn't tell students what was going on. "I thought there was a school shooting. There was a lot of waiting. I didn't have any idea there was someone with a gun until I was released," he said.

Once out of school, Garcia's mother, Trixie, hugged him and started crying.

"I just wanted my son back in my arms," she said.

"My morning has been a nightmare," said Diana Philips, whose son, Avery, is a sixth-grader at the school. Philips hugged her son and started crying when they were reunited.

The incident occurred on the first day of school following a four-day break and after police from multiple agencies investigated threats made on social media over the weekend, which were deemed not credible. There was a heightened police presence at several Stark County school buildings Tuesday morning.

"That Florida shooting just happened, and you keep thinking about your kid," said parent Daniela Biller, who has three students at the middle school. "I just bawled my eyes out watching the Florida shooting and thinking about what if it was my kids."

Once the shooting at the middle school was reported, Jackson High School also went on lockdown. Students at the high school were sent home just before 10 a.m., and all other buildings in Jackson Local Schools were closed before classes began. All school-related events on Tuesday were canceled.

High school students without a ride home could be seen walking on the unseasonably warm February day. Some found their way to the middle school and joined waiting parents.

A crowd lined Mudbrook Street NW and adjacent sides streets filled with cars, as well as nearby parking lots.

Eventual relief

Ernest "Ike" Nkanginene, a Jackson graduate who attended the middle school, waited with his parents to pick up is younger brother, a sixth-grader. He noted that the crowd seemed relieved when they learned only one child was injured and his parents had been notified. But he felt pain for the child and his parents. "I just hope the kid is OK."

Nkanginiene also said he hopes parents learn from the incident and talk to children. "Why bring a gun to school?" he asked.

Christine Affolter praised the school district for the way it handled reuniting parents and students. She confirmed her daughter, Kamryn, didn't know what was going on while she was in a classroom.

"Kids drill for these things," Affolter said. "They know what to do when it happens. There is no drill for parents, though. There is no way to prepare for that."

Parents heard rumors on social media throughout the morning.

Larry Andreff arrived at the middle school to pick up his child and was relieved to learn the incident was contained.

"First and foremost, all the kids are safe," he said. "I think all the parents are relieved."

Jackson Middle School instructs sixth- to eighth-grade students. It is the largest middle school in Stark County, with roughly 1,400 students enrolled and about 130 teachers and staff at the building located on Mudbrook Street NW.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Canton Repository staff writer Alison Matas contributed to this report.

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©2018 The Repository, Canton, Ohio

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