CLARKSBURG, Md. — Montgomery County's top cop is struggling to stop a surge of gun scares at local high schools. State's Attorney John McCarthy is now trying something new. He's launching a series of gun violence prevention assemblies at every MCPS high school.
The assemblies are unprecedented: 26 high schools, 70,000 students, this is the first time prosecutors have reached out to all of them on what they see as a gun crisis.
The fear of guns has hit home.
"It's scary. Really!" said Victoria Smith, 15, a member of the Student Government Association at Clarksburg High School.
Last week, investigators believe a student brought a gun to Bethesda Chevy Chase High School. Last January, a student shot and critically wounded another student in the boys' bathroom at Magruder High School. The day after the Parkland Florida high school massacre, a student brought a loaded gun here to Clarksburg. In 2020, five Clarksburg students were arrested for bringing a gun to school.
"For it to be in such close proximity to myself, it's definitely worrying. Like, if I step into the school someday, is that going to be me? Am I going to be next?" said Sabrin Niaiathullah, 16, the SGA president.
"I'm convinced young people know things we don't," said Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy.
According to data from his office, the number of ghost guns seized in the county has increased dramatically, from just 16 in 2019 to 148 this year, as of Sept. 11. McCarthy claims ghost guns, which can potentially be purchased online, have been more accessible to underage people. Last year, police seized six guns inside Montgomery County high schools.
If they think someone might have a gun, McCarthy is urging students to reach out to a trusted adult, as students did a B-CC.
"Two boys went into a bathroom, saw what they thought was a gun by another and I think they did the right thing. One called their mother immediately, who contacted the school. The other ran down to the front office. We think there is someone with a gun at the school," he said.
A high school teacher himself for six years, McCarthy offered warning signs. "Suddenly withdrawing from friends, online isolation," he said, reading from a chart that also suggested that other signs include:
- Expressing persistent thoughts of harming themselves or others.
- Making direct threats toward a place, another person, or themselves.
- Bragging about access to guns or weapons.
- Recruiting accomplices or audiences for an attack.
Maryland has set up ways for people to report concerns anonymously:
Anonymous Tip Line: 1-833-MD-B-SAFE (1-833-632-7233), online at safeschoolsmd.org
In an emergency, call 911
McCarthy also warned that handgun possession by anyone under 21 in Maryland is a crime in itself.
"We need to work together to make your schools free of guns and safe," he told hundreds of Clarksburg students crammed into the auditorium.