Bluffton teen charged with bringing gun to school

Bluffton teen charged with bringing gun to school

BLUFFTON, SC (WTOC) - A 17-year-old boy is in custody Wednesday morning.

The Bluffton High School student told a teacher he had weapons in his clothing, according to Bluffton police. The teacher and guidance counselors contacted authorities and school officials.

Bluffton police said Austen Almeida, 17, a senior at Bluffton High School, was taken into custody by police. At the time of his arrest, he had on him several person multiple knives with blades at least 2 inches long, a loaded Glock 22 handgun, gasoline, lighter fluid and a lighter, according to police.

Almeida is charged with carrying a weapon onto school property, unlawful carrying of a firearm and disturbing schools. He has been taken to the Beaufort County Detention Center. Police said a bond hearing is expected to take place at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

The incident happened between 8:30 and 9 a.m. Bluffton High School then immediately went into lockdown until authorities could search the building, specific rooms and each student.

Bluffton police, with the help of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Bluffton Fire Dept. and the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, conducted more searches of the school.

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office secured a school bus parked at the Hilton Head school complex, which was the one the student rode to school, according to the BCSO.

The bus was parked in front of the elementary school after dropping off students. Members of both the SLED and sheriff's office bomb squads responded and conducted a search of the bus.

A bag found on the bus was later determined to be a child's lunch bag that had been left behind. There was no other evidence found on the bus.

While the bus was searched, Bluffton Elementary was put on modified lockdown. Students were removed from rooms that were near the parking lot where the bus was parked, according to the BCSO.

Bluffton High School was then put on a modified lockdown, which limits where students can go in the building.

The law enforcement perimeter around Bluffton High School was lifted at 12:20 p.m.  A modified lockdown has since been lifted for Bluffton Middle and Bluffton Elementary. No one was injured.

A search warrant was executed at Almeida's home at Heritage Lakes home on Ferebee Court. Bomb squad members searched the home.

Residents were notified using reverse 911 about authorities' presence and deputies controlling access to the area.

Statements from Bluffton Police Chief Joey Reynolds:

Released at 1:57 p.m.: "We feel very satisfied Bluffton High School is safe from any threat after several searches were conducted by Bluffton Police Department officers, deputies from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and the firemen from the Bluffton Fire Department. As of 12: 20 p.m., I have released the law enforcement perimeter around Bluffton High School. This will allow parents to come on school property and pick up their students, if they choose.

"We will continue to conduct more searches throughout the day.

"We thank every student and their parents for their patience today. Our job is to ensure a safe environment and we realize there are moments of concern for everyone involved as we gather information. Our objective, in all critical incidents, is to be thorough and that takes time.

"Today's incident also indicates our schools have effective procedures in place that produce safe, successful and positive outcomes. We thank everyone for their cooperative and on behalf of every officer, I thank you."

Reynolds statement released Wednesday morning:

"All students are safe and the student who made the threat is in custody," Bluffton Police Chief Joey Reynolds said. "We believe everyone is safe, however is it our job to take every precaution regardless of the inconveniences which may be a byproduct of our mission to protect each resident of the Town.

"We appreciate everyone's patience as we finish  our searches. It is important to mention that many things went right today. It is always concerning when we have a potential threat against our students and our schools; however it is also reassuring that teachers, administrators and the students, themselves, are aligned with safety procedures and they were executed nearly perfectly today.

"We will have more information forthcoming as the investigation and precautionary measures are conducted."

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