A teacher at Paisley Magnet School in Winston-Salem is suspended with pay, a school official said, after she was arrested Monday on allegations of storing a gun in her classroom last month, then giving the gun back to a student.
Court records allege that at least one student then brought the gun back to school and that the weapon wound up in the hands of at least two juveniles.
Sarah Melissa Wilson, 25, of Lexington is accused of “aiding a juvenile student to possess” a Raven .25-caliber handgun, according to a warrant.
Police say Wilson kept the handgun in her classroom at Paisley Magnet School after the student brought it to her. Investigators determined that the gun was at Paisley Magnet during the week of April 22.
Wilson then “allowed the firearm to be stored in the classroom,” and the juvenile student “to retrieve the handgun near the conclusion of the school day,” police said.
Wilson couldn’t be reached Tuesday for comment. She was released from custody on her written promise to appear on May 30 in Forsyth District Court, a court record shows.
She has worked as a language arts teacher with the school since August 2017, said Brent Campbell, a spokesman with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Her annual salary is $38,600.
Investigators consulted with District Attorney Jim O’Neill before obtaining an arrest warrant against Wilson, police said.
Police Capt. Steven Tollie said that it’s a common practice for detectives to consult with the Forsyth County District Attorney’s office before charges are filed against criminal defendants.
Interim Superintendent Kenneth Simington announced Wilson’s suspension and discussed the events at Paisley Magnet in a statement Tuesday. He also addressed the issue of a weapon recently confiscated in another school and threats made against one school on social media.
State personnel laws limit what Simington can say about the charges against Wilson, he said.
“At Paisley, last week our team was alerted that a student may have seen a weapon on campus,” Simington said. “Administrators worked to help police to begin conducting interviews to determine if indeed a weapon had earlier been at school.
“By early Friday, investigators communicated to us there was evidence that a weapon had been on campus and as soon as we had those facts, we alerted parents to the investigation,” Simington said.
Wilson’s arrest came in the course of that investigation. The same weapon was involved in both the incident last week and the April case, police said.
School administrators learned from police investigators that the gun had been on the Paisley campus in April, Campbell said.
“We had no knowledge of that prior to their investigation late last week,” Campbell said.
Last week’s investigation at Paisley started Wednesday, police and Campbell said.
The school resource officer began investigating an allegation that a video on social media showed a student with a firearm at the school a day earlier. The officer confirmed the video’s existence and identified the juvenile student — the same student accused of giving the gun to Wilson in April.
Officers recovered the handgun from a different student Thursday, police said. Officers said that the second juvenile had also possessed the gun while on the property at Paisley Magnet School, although it wasn’t clear if that happened before or after Wilson gave back the handgun.
Authorities are pursuing criminal charges against both juveniles involved in this incident, police said.
Parents need facts, not rumors, says superintendent
Meanwhile, police are also investigating incidents at two other schools: a handgun at Northwest Middle School on Monday and threats on social media toward Reynolds High School on Sunday.
“This is alarming as safety is our top priority,” Simington said of those incidents. “We are sincerely thankful that students trust and are comfortable enough with our school leaders to tell them when something is not right.
“These incidents are concerning and highlight the continued need for us to work together as a community and make sure students and parents understand the dangers of unsecured weapons, the power of social media, and the importance of a student’s emotional well-being,” Simington said.
Administrators at Reynolds were made aware Sunday afternoon of a possible threat to the school on social media, Simington said. Police investigators worked to determine if the threat was real and credible, he said.
“This investigation has proven lengthy and difficult due to the large number of folks re-posting and altering what is believed to be the original message,” Simington said.
Investigators told school administrators that they couldn’t find evidence of an actual threat to the school, Simington said.
As a precaution, additional officers were assigned to Reynolds High, he said.
“Our administrative team sent out notification as soon as this information was received, so parents could be informed of the issues facing law enforcement and school leaders Monday,” Simington said.
In another incident, officers were called Monday morning to Northwest Middle School, at 5501 Murray Road after school officials were alerted that a student had a handgun in a classroom, police said. The student had the weapon in a book bag, according to investigators.
Police said there were no direct threats made to students or staff. However, juvenile charges will be sought in the case.
“Because the individual and the weapon were in police custody in a short period of time, a lock-down procedure was not needed,” Simington said. “We do not take these incidents lightly and will always work as quickly as possible to validate any information we have.”
Simington said that many staff members and administrators are parents as well.
“We understand threatening language and images of young people with weapons talking about harm to a school can be frightening,” Simington said. “That is why we work to let parents know the facts, not the rumors, as soon as we can.”
The school system has a strong partnership with local law enforcement officers, he said.
“We follow their lead as they are seasoned professionals working to gain facts,” Simington said. “We must not interfere with these critical investigations, and releasing information too soon can do just that. Thankfully, not every report is valid, or truthful, but all are taken seriously.”
Simington urged parents and students to report threats that they see on social media and not re-post them.
“The posts often get altered and, within minutes, the original post is lost in a sea of misinformation, making it more difficult to track down,” he said. ““Social media abuse can quickly cause false fear and result in widespread school absence, concerns for safety and false allegations.”
Students who may have thought a post was funny, a joke or a prank can face serious consequences, including being charged with a criminal offense, Simington said.
Simington said he’s concerned with the effect that poor social media behavior has on schools and students.
“We want students to feel safe and comfortable at school,” Simington said. “We want social media to be filled with accolades and accomplishments, achievements and expressions of high expectations fulfilled.”