BENTONVILLE -- A 14-year-old boy who took a loaded gun to Bentonville High School last week avoided further detention Friday and instead was sent home with an ankle monitor.
The teen pleaded guilty Friday morning to possessing a handgun on school property but said he needed the weapon for his protection.
He was arrested Feb. 4 and has been held in the Benton County Juvenile Detention Center since the arrest.
A student told school staff and the resource officers the teen may have a gun. Officers quickly found the student and a 9mm handgun, according to a Bentonville Police Department news release.
Benton County Circuit Judge Tom Smith questioned the teen before accepting his plea and a recommendation to suspend a sentence, which means the teen won't be sent to one of the Arkansas Division of Youth Services' facilities.
The judge wanted to know from whom and where the teen obtained the gun.
"If I feel like I'm not getting the truth from you, I will put you in DYS until you are 21," Smith said.
The teen began telling a story he got the gun from a man whose name he didn't know.
Mason Reynolds, deputy prosecutor, interrupted the teen and told the judge another juvenile confessed to giving him the weapon.
Smith warned the teen about the importance of being honest.
"At 14, why were you looking for a gun?" the judge asked.
The teen said he didn't intend to hurt anyone, but he believed he needed the gun for protection because he had been receiving text messages threatening him.
"I got people threatening to stab and shoot me," the teen said.
"He has been bullied quite a bit," Lora Noschese, the teen's attorney said. "His mom has seen some of the messages."
The boy's mother told the judge she had seen threatening messages on her son's phone, and he once came home with a black eye. His father was also in the courtroom.
Smith told the teen possessing the loaded gun at school is a dangerous crime. He asked the teen again why he had the gun.
The teen replied he was scared.
Reynolds told the judge he had an affidavit from a police officer that said the teen, along with the juvenile who gave him the gun, and others were in a gang.
Noschese disputed that claim.
Smith said 95% of the people who appear in his courtroom don't have two people who care for them.
"Most don't have one and you have two," Smith said.
Smith accepted the agreement to suspend any sentence to Youth Services, but warned the teen there's now zero tolerance.
The teen was released from the juvenile detention center, but he will have to wear a home monitoring unit for 90 days. He will also have to participate in counseling.
The teen's mother told the judge she appreciates the support.
Smith told her to monitor her son's social media. She told the judge that it will no longer be a problem.
Smith ordered the teen not to have any contact with the juvenile who gave him the gun.
"Don't cross this line again," Smith said.
The School District's handbook requires expulsion for the kind of offense the teen committed, said Leslee Wright, district director of communications. She added, however, that privacy laws prohibit her from confirming the expulsion of any particular student.
Wright declined comment on the teen's guilty plea Friday, but she expressed appreciation for the student who came forward notifying authorities about the gun and the two officers who responded.
"We owe a debt of gratitude to all three of them," she said.
The district offers a hotline for students and others to report school safety and security concerns at 479-367-8080. That hotline is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Approximately 2,150 students were attending Bentonville High School in person and another 750 students were attending the school virtually as of Feb. 1.
Source: Bentonville School District