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Police: Florida boy drops loaded handgun inside pre-kindergarten class

By Greg Botelho, CNN
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5-year-old drops loaded gun in class
  • A pre-K teacher saw a gun fall from a 5-year-old's pocket during class, police say
  • The gun did not go off, but the boy was suspended and police are investigating
  • The boy told authorities he found the firearm en route to school in his stepdad's car
  • Assistant police chief: "The boy is both initially a suspect ... (and) a victim"

Read local coverage of this story at CNN affiliate WJXT.

(CNN) -- Florida police are trying to figure out how a 5-year-old boy came into possession of a loaded handgun that he dropped inside a pre-kindergarten class.

A female pre-kindergarten teacher at Moseley Elementary School in Palatka was giving a music lesson Tuesday morning when she noticed the small, .22-caliber handgun fall out of the boy's pocket, Assistant Police Chief James Griffith said. The firearm did not go off, and no one was hurt.

But the boy, along with the gun, were promptly brought to school administrators. They alerted school security and police at 9:25 a.m., having determined that there was no immediate danger to the school, which is in Palatka in northeastern Florida.

"The boy is both initially a suspect in this thing, but also a victim," said Griffith. "This is very rare."

The boy told authorities that he found the firearm inside the vehicle that he had come to school in -- one which Griffith said belonged to the youngster's stepfather. Neither the boy nor stepfather have been named, the assistant chief said, in order to protect the identity of the child, who is a minor.

Police say they have no indication that the boy made any threats or showed the weapon to anyone during his 30 to 45 minutes in school before the incident.

"There was nothing that transpired, as far as threats, showing the weapon off, anything like that," Griffith said. "At this point, we are trying to determine where the child got the gun from, and if any adult was negligent in allowing him to gain access (to it)."

The student was immediately suspended and barred from coming on school grounds pending the outcome of the investigation, while the state's Department of Children and Families is also looking into the case.

Putnam County Schools Superintendent Tom Townsend told CNN affiliate WJXT that the problem extends well beyond the youngster.

"This isn't the fault of the 5-year-old," Townsend said. "Someone is responsible for leaving a gun where a 5-year-old can access it, and that's a tragedy and it's inexcusable."

The police investigation could take "anywhere from weeks to months," the assistant chief said, while authorities look at evidence and conduct interviews. The boy's youth isn't much of a complicating factor, with Griffith saying that he "seems intelligent (and is) able to communicate well."

"You're trying to verify their version of what occurred," Griffith said of the child and others central to the case. "Do we have any witnesses to back up what they're saying, those types of things."

While authorities are investigating the case as a serious matter, they're also thankful that it did not turn out worse.

"That's what you always worry about, when a child gets their hand on a gun and its loaded," Griffith said. "The chances of an accidental discharge and someone getting shot by accident -- it's not good."