ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. - A Northeastern High School student is in custody after being discovered with a firearm and drugs while riding a bus to school Wednesday morning.
According to the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office, at 9:20 a.m., school resource officers with the sheriff's office made the discovery while the bus was stopped at River Road Middle School.
In cooperation with the Elizabeth City Police Department and Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools (ECPPS), officers and staff conducted additional searches of the buildings at Northeastern High School and River Road Middle School.
The sheriff's office said both schools were under a lockdown while officers investigated. An employee of the sheriff's office told News 3 the lockdown was lifted at River Road Middle about 11:15 a.m., and the lockdown at Northeastern High was lifted later, at approximately 1 p.m.
The sheriff's office had previously put information out stating that the incident was under control and any further response was out of precaution.
At approximately 11 a.m., the sheriff's office posted on social media:
"The lockdown at River Road Middle School has been lifted. After completing a search of the buildings, it was determined that there is no further threat to students or staff."
Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten held a press conference about the incident Wednesday afternoon.
Recounting the events, Wooten said the bus driver became aware of an odor of marijuana coming from a student on the bus.
Once the driver got to River Road Middle, they notified administration. The assistant principal made contact with school resource officer assigned to the school, and they went to the bus to check the student and found he had a jar with “green matter” in it, which they believed to be marijuana.
After inspecting the student's backpack, they found an AK-47 pistol with a loaded magazine in it. Authorities seized items from student and took him into custody immediately.
The student taken into custody was a Northeastern High School student. The bus stops at River Road Middle first to drop off students, then heads to Northeastern High to drop off those students.
Phone calls were made, and officials with sheriff’s office went to the school to take “further necessary precautions," including a sweep of the school. Elizabeth City Police helped the sheriff’s office search "every classroom, every building” of both schools, and nothing else significant was found.
The school district put out messages to advise parents of what was happening.
Sheriff Wooten said the student has been charged with: Possession of firearm on school grounds – felony; possession of firearm on school grounds - misdemeanor; carry concealed firearm; carry concealed weapon (because there was also a knife involved); possession of weapon of mass destruction (due to the size of the AK-47); possession of stolen firearm; misdemeanor possession of marijuana; and possession with intent to sell/deliver marijuana.
The investigation is still ongoing, and Wooten said there could be more charges.
Sheriff Wooten said the incident "could have been a terrible nightmare” and thanked the bus driver for noticing the odor and "not being scared to say something." He also thanked the assistant principal of River Road Middle and the SRO for coming out to help.
The sheriff then called on the community to come together to stand against gun violence and drugs “poisoning our youth" and encouraged people to say something if they see something.
News 3 talked with a parent who has children both the middle and high school. He said the students were allowed to leave earlier than usual.
"I’d also like to commend our local law enforcement who did a great job of jumping on the situation and taking care of things, so I appreciate that," said Stephan Wenninger. "I think the communication problem that we saw was actually what was happening inside the school, because we were hearing rumors that students were spreading that weren’t real. We were hearing students weren’t getting information on what was happening. So the students were becoming afraid because they’re sitting in a classroom and they know something was going on and their bags were being searched but they don’t know why," Wenninger added.