Deputies: Boy, 12, brings 3 guns to Nassau County school

Child’s mother told deputies the child recently killed the family dog with a pellet gun

Child’s mother told deputies the child recently killed the family dog with a pellet gun.

CALLAHAN, Fla. – A 12-year-old Nassau County boy was arrested Thursday after deputies say he brought three guns and ammo to a private Christian school in Callahan.

The principal for Lighthouse Christian School called the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office about noon Thursday after staff found two firearms and two boxes of ammunition in a student’s lunchbox, according to a copy of the student’s arrest report. A third gun was later found, along with a violent drawing.

Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper called Thursday’s incident “very scary,” saying it’s “dangerous for kids to have weapons like that, much less taking one to school.”

“When you look at the killing of a family pet, you look at some of the drawings that were found in the kid’s desk, it is alarming," Leeper said Friday. "You don’t know what’s in the child’s mind and what they’re thinking — maybe innocent, maybe not. But surely, you don’t want to take that chance; you want to make sure the child gets the help that he needs to make sure nothing like this will happen in the future.”

Principal Troy Arnold told deputies it was a teacher who first noticed something out of the ordinary — Gabriel Dean Lewis Stanford was carrying two lunchboxes, one heavier than the other, according to the report. At that point, the report said, the teacher approached Stanford.

Child’s mother told deputies the child recently killed the family dog with a pellet gun.

“[The teacher] asked the student to see his lunchbox and he reluctantly allowed her," according to the report. "She discovered the butt of a gun and turned it over to the principal,” who told deputies he found a revolver, a second handgun and two boxes of .380 caliber ammunition inside.

The teacher said Stanford told her he had brought the guns to school to show the principal.

News4Jax is naming the child because of the gravity of the charges he faces.

Deputies noted that a third handgun, this one loaded with .380 caliber ammo, was found on Stanford during an interview, though there was no round in the chamber. The 12-year-old was questioned by deputies, but his answers were redacted from the report.

“While interviewing the student a second time, staff was conducting a search of his desk. Inside his desk was a drawing of a man outside of a school with guns. The man was surrounded by several dead bodies, covered in red marker indicating blood,” the report stated.

The child’s mother, Sasha Lewis, told deputies the family has guns at home, but she thought the gun safe was locked. She speculated that her son might’ve gotten access to the safe when she unlocked it for her uncle.

“[The child’s mother] advised he recently accidentally killed the family Chihuahua with a pellet rifle when he was unsupervised,” according to the report.

Stanford was arrested on three felony counts of illegal possession of a firearm at school and transported to a juvenile detention facility in Jacksonville. The Department of Children and Families was notified.

Arnold told News4Jax on Friday that Stanford seemed frightened when confronted about the guns. He said the child had no previous issues during the roughly two years he’s been a student at Lighthouse Christian School, a small K-12 school that only has about 60 students.

The principal said the 12-year-old would likely be expelled.

“Bringing a weapon to school results in immediate suspension or expulsion and in this kind of case, it will always be expulsion, so we’re working on that now," Arnold said. “It never feels good, obviously, because there’s a hurting family out there.”

“My prayer is that he gets appropriate help, and that the system works for him," he added.

The sheriff said Thursday’s incident should serve as a reminder to families who have firearms at home about the importance of keeping them safe and secure.

“You need to make sure that it’s locked up and not accessible because it can be dangerous for children to get ahold of weapons," he said. "And it is against the law to have children access to guns like that.”

About the Authors:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.

Award-winning broadcast and multimedia journalist with 20 years experience.