(Originally published April 12, 2005.)

School officials did not want to overly alarm parents when a Lime Street Elementary School student recently was discovered with a homemade "zip" gun. Students were safe and handling the issue one step at a time was the best approach, two administrators said last week.

"We knew that no students were in danger, but it's hard for a parent to recognize that," said Rob Challinor, the Hesperia Unified School District's Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services.

"We want to be careful and make sure that we're not creating any hysteria that's not necessary."

Furthermore, according to Lime Street Principal Irene Lopez, the school is a safe learning environment with many wonderful students.

"Our kids are, for the most part, they're great kids, they really are," said Lime Street Principal Irene Lopez. "It's a really great school, it's a safe school. That's why this was such a twist for us. I've been a principal for 13 years. ... I think you just develop an instinct for situations. He was brought in for a situation that was [much more] minor. His response to me indicated to me that I needed to have him searched."

In the first gun incident in the Hesperia Unified School District in years, a homemade weapon was discovered in the possession of a Lime Street Elementary School student, but parents were not told of the incident until after it appeared in area newspapers.

The incident occurred on March 4, but parents of Lime Street students did not hear about it until 11 days later, on March 15, when the story broke in the Hesperia Star and as a brief story in the Daily Press. (Both stories called the zip gun just a "gun" in the headlines.)

The sixth grader was a recent arrival from the Los Angeles Unified School District, and his zip gun was discovered during a search after an unrelated incident. The student was taken to juvenile hall and will not be returning to the HUSD school system. The gun was not discovered in a configuration in which it could be fired, and thus no students were in immediate danger from its presence on school grounds.

That Tuesday, Lopez sent a letter home with students detailing the "story behind the story."

"Up to this time, communication with the school community regarding this situation was on hold pending further investigation," the letter reads in part. The letter goes on to detail the incident in much the way the Star and Daily Press stories did, adding the detail that the zip gun initially appeared to be a screwdriver-like tool that could be pulled apart and put back together.

"As always, be assured that the safety of our students at Lime is our number one priority. I am grateful for intuition and I am extremely grateful for the timely response and thoroughness of our HUSD police department," the letter concludes.

"'It's been over a week, I need to get the letter out,'" Lopez remembers thinking that Tuesday morning, "But I need to get closure from the police. ... I'm sitting there getting coffee, then I opened the paper and 'AH! I guess it's going out today.'"

Lopez said she fielded about seven phone calls from parents as a result of the story hitting the newspapers.

"It came down to 'why wasn't it sent out immediately,'" she said. "Of course, I would have hoped to send it out immediately, but it took a while to find out from the authorities what it was, but I had never seen anything like it."

The gap between the incident and parents being notified of it did not violate any school district rules, Challinor said.

"If you're asking of there's a specific policy [as to] when parents are notified, the answer is no," he said. "We have to be very careful and have all the facts.

Some parents feeling upset at being left out of the loop was inevitable, no matter which way the school system had handled it, he said.

"We fully intended to communicate with parents," Challinor said. "This is a thing that, as a school official, we'd never be right."

"We did a lot of things right," Lopez said. "The learning experience for me was that, when I was waiting, I should have drafted a letter [to parents]."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached beau@hesperiastar.com or 956-7108.