Less than one week after 14-year-old gunman Jaylen Fryberg from Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Washington State brought a handgun to school and shot three of his friends and two of his cousins in the school cafeteria, killing two 14-year-old girls and then taking his own life with the same gun, a 16-year-old couple attending Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School in Taunton, Massachusetts, thought it’d be fun to pose for their high school homecoming photo holding Airsoft rifles. Tito Velez and his girlfriend Jamie Pereira, both 16, said that the picture, which was posted to Velez’s Facebook page, was all in good fun and that they didn’t mean any harm, according to an Oct. 29 report from Fox News.
The homecoming photo was taken just prior to the school dance last Friday. When Velez and Pereira got to school on Monday, they found out that were both being suspended for at least ten days. The superintendent for the kids’ school said that there would be a hearing scheduled to determine “about when or if they will be allowed to return.”
At the heart of the matter, aside from the kids’ lack of good judgment, was the caption accompanying the Facebook photo which related the photo of kids with guns to an official school function. That connection, combined with what school officials described as a disruption in normal school activities because of the photo, was all school officials needed to take action.
“These students know what is … provocative,” said Superintendent Richard Gross. “And to tie that to one of our school events kind of puts it over the top which brings us into it.”
In the minds of the teens, they just wanted their homecoming photo to be unique. They wanted to be photographed with something other than your standard arrangement of flowers. So they each held an Airsoft rifle. According to WCVB, Airsoft rifles are replicas of the real thing. Although they are capable of firing plastic bullets, they are “intended to be non-lethal.”
“This isn’t dangerous .. you can’t kill someone with it,” Velez said. “We didn’t shoot anyone. We were pointing them at the floor. Everything was on safe, no batteries, they never left the house. We never took them to school. That’d be stupid.”
Jamie Pereira’s dad stands behind his daughter and said that he thinks the suspension and possibility of expulsion is ridiculous, adding that “basically it’s a toy gun.” Jamie now understands why the school took the actions it did, but thinks it’s all too much.
“Suspending us for 10 days and possible expulsion is way too much,” Pereira said. The Facebook photo showing Velez and Pereira posing with the Airsoft rifles has since been removed. For more on Velez and Pereira’s suspension and possible expulsion from high school, see the video accompanying this article.