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New Pine Bluff program prevents student from bringing alleged gun into school

"For me to know that we've avoided potentially another shooting, somebody seriously being injured or killed. It brings me great joy."

PINE BLUFF, Ark. — According to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, a 9th grade student at Watson Chapel Junior High School was arrested following an investigation into an aggravated assault and threats of a shooting that were made earlier this week against other students.

In a statement, the Watson Chapel School District said on Jan. 26th, the 9th grader was seen on the junior high campus with a firearm.

On Thursday, Jan. 27, the student made social media posts that referenced bringing a weapon to school for the purpose of shooting classmates.

Sheriff's deputies arrested the male student shortly before 7 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 28.

Jefferson County Sheriff Lafayette Woods said a new program called the Gang Reduction Initiative of Pine Bluff (G.R.I.P.) helped prevent a school shooting from happening on Friday.

"For me to know that we've avoided potentially another shooting, somebody seriously being injured or killed. It brings me great joy," Woods said.

He is considering the arrest a tragedy prevented.

"There's no other greater endeavor in protecting our schools and our students," Woods said.

After officers received information about the plans of the 15-year-old student, they acted quickly.

"[He was] still in possession of a weapon, and had made some other threats and potentially was going to return back to the school," Woods said.

Back in November, the department rolled out the gang reduction program.

It is designed to prevent at-risk youth from joining gangs.

"Oftentimes, it results in turning into violence. This is just one of those situations where we able to intervene before it got too violent," Woods said.

For him, he said he is fully invested in protecting young lives in the community and vows to do more than just putting handcuffs on kids.

"On the prevention side and the intervention [side] to find out why it happened. "We want to find out going further and why did he feel a need to have to carry a weapon. We utilize that information, and through those conversations to prevent that from happening in the future," Woods said. 

He said the program has received state funding for a year from the governor and the Arkansas Department of Health.

But, there are other hurdles that they have run into.

The sheriff's department requested additional funds from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, but just recently found that they were denied.

"We are still waiting on official notification as to why we did not. But the committee feels as though that we did provide enough statistical data," Woods said.

He plans to reapply once the application opens up again.

The extra funding would provide more officers on school campuses in Pine Bluff and more manpower on the streets.

Woods said he is hopeful that the GRIP initiative will continue to prevent crises, as well as help the youth.

He adds that he and the team will continue to make efforts to visit all schools in Pine Bluff regularly.

Woods also said deputies are training for an initiative known as the 'OK Program' that will allow for them to mentor students.


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