SWAT acted in the best interests of students

On Jan. 13, Christopher Penley, a 15-year-old Florida middle-school student, brought a gun to school and pulled it out in the classroom, waved it at other students and attempted to hold a fellow classmate hostage in a closet.

The twist? The gun wasn’t a real handgun at all – it was a pellet gun painted black and modified to look like a Baretta 9mm.

Maurice Cotey, a classmate, scuffled with Penley to get control of the gun but was unsuccessful.

In an article in the Orlando Sentinel, Cotey said, “The gun started to come apart, but I wasn’t really sure if it was a toy or a real gun.”

Unfortunately, Cotey didn’t speak to authorities until after Penley was shot.

He was shot by a sheriff’s deputy after he aimed it at the officers. It was reported that witnesses heard Penley say he was going to die, “one way or another,” so they believed he was a threat to the safety of others.

Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said Penley was suicidal and couldn’t be talked into surrendering the weapon.

According to an article in the Miami Herald, Mark Nation, a lawyer for the Penley family, said his parents told the police their son didn’t have a real gun and refused to let Penley’s father inside the school. But the SWAT team couldn’t tell the difference. Allegedly, the gun had been painted black to cover up the colorful end usually found on a pellet gun.

Penley was pronounced dead Sunday, after being kept alive in order for his organs to be harvested. The officer who shot Penley was placed on restrictive duty.

It is always difficult to digest when a teenager is killed, but in this instance, the SWAT team did what it felt was necessary. Imagine the chaos that could have occurred had the gun been real. There potentially could have been another Columbine. The SWAT team members are trained to keep situations from escalating out of hand. Based on the information it had, the team made the decision to shoot one person, instead of waiting for the situation to get worse.

It is very unfortunate Penley died when there was no real threat to the safety of the students. However, his role in the tragedy can’t be downplayed. You can’t bring a gun (fake or not) to school without expecting things to escalate to that level. Especially in this age of heightened school violence, police and other authorities can’t possibly know what students are capable of doing. In dangerous situations like that, it is hard to determine what is the right action to take, but the SWAT team couldn’t wait around for Penley to potentially harm other students.

Many questions still remain. We don’t know what motivated Penley to bring the gun to school or if he truly wanted to die that morning. We don’t know if Penley would still be alive had his father been allowed in the building to talk to his son.

But what we do know is that we must learn from this situation to make sure he didn’t die in vain. Many teenagers feel like they have no way out and resort to actions like this. Let’s hope this tragedy persuades them to find more positive ways to express their pain.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.