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February 01, 2017

Two Upper Darby High School students charged with bringing loaded handgun to school

Officers also seized marijuana; police captain punched in face during arrest

Investigations Weapons
Upper Darby High School Google/Street View

Upper Darby High School

Two Upper Darby High School students – including one who had been arrested in 2015 after threatening the pope on Twitter – were allegedly caught carrying a loaded handgun and marijuana after exiting a bus at the school on Wednesday morning, police said.

Neither boy's name has been released. Both are 17 years old. One is a 12th grader at the school; the other is in 11th grade. The gun recovered was a 9mm handgun, Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said at a press conference later Wednesday morning.

The teens are charged with weapons and drug offenses, and authorities continue to investigate an incident, Chitwood said.

The 12th grader, he said, in 2015 set off an investigation by the FBI and Secret Service after tweeting one threat against Pope Francis and another to "blow up" Upper Darby. The threat to the pope coincided with the papal visit to Philadelphia in September 2015 for the World Meeting of Families.

"The majority of kids are good and decent, but there are some of them who want to be gangsters," Chitwood said.

Upper Darby High School administrators first alerted township police to the gun, and officers were waiting when the two 17-year-olds arrived at the school. School officials were acting on a tip received Tuesday that the 12th grader would have the weapon. They and police had expected the arrest to happen Tuesday, but the 12th grader was not in school.

NoneLinda Reilly/For PhillyVoice

On Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, two Upper Darby High School students were arrested after they allegedly brought handgun and marijuana to school. Pictured above at the press conference to announce the arrests are Upper Darby School District Acting Superintendent Dan Nerelli, Upper Darby High School Principal Ed Roth and Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood.

When the students got off the bus, the 12th grader allegedly was openly carrying a metal money box that, Chitwood said, contained the gun and some vials of marijuana.

“The gun was loaded and ready to go,” Chitwood said. “What infuriates me is the school administration is trying to educate, and we’ve got dirtballs like this. The school is not the issue. The issue is the criminal justice system.”

Upper Darby High School Principal Edward Roth told the 11th grader to step aside when the 12th grader attempted to hand off the money box over to his companion. A scuffle ensued, and the 11th grader allegedly punched Upper Darby Police Capt. James Reif in the face and is additionally charged with aggravated assault.

According to Chitwood, Reif did not require treatment at the hospital for the laceration on his forehead.

Both teens are charged as juveniles, but Chitwood said he is seeking to have the Delaware County District Attorney's Office re-charge them as adults.

NoneLinda Reilly/For PhillyVoice

Above is the 9mm handgun and marijuana Upper Darby police allegedly confiscated from two 17-year-old high school students Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017.

Afterward, an automated call from Upper Darby School District's Acting Superintendent Dan Nerelli informed parents about the incident. Nerelli praised the district’s Director of Public Safety Lou Gentile, Upper Darby High School Principal Ed Roth and the police on Wednesday morning.

"I remain confident that our high school is a safe place," Nerelli said, "and that today showed our preparedness for handling a situation such as this one."

According to Roth, school officials heard a rumor “that a kid may be in possession of a handgun. I thank the kids and staff for letting us know. Today is a great example of being prepared for what can come up.”

The student who brought the gun on the bus may be charged as an adult, police said.

“We take emergency preparedness very, very seriously,” Gentile, a former Upper Darby police officer, said. “We have procedures and a protocol and this was followed to a T. The handgun never made it into school which is a testimony to the administrators and team.”

Chitwood said investigators continue to work to determine where the 12th grade student got the gun, who its owner is and what was the his intention for bringing it to school.

Police have plans to review the video from the bus and conduct additional interviews to determine if anyone else is involved.

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