The Bethel School District is asking Pierce County to review rifle range safety ordinances after a bullet struck the district’s Frederickson Elementary School, penetrating a window and lodging in a wall.
The incident occurred the afternoon of Feb. 16. No was injured by the stray bullet, but a teacher was near where shards of glass fell from the damaged window.
“We were fortunate that Feb. 16 was a training day. There were teachers, some of their children and a class sponsored by the YMCA or the Boys Club being held at the school,” said Bethel Superintendent Tom Seigel. The bullet penetrated the hallway wall about five feet from the floor.
In a letter to Pierce County Councilman Jim McCune, Seigel suggested that the errant bullet could have come from the Tacoma Sportsman’s Club. The school is east of the club’s east-facing rifle range.
Club President Gary Higginbotham said the club has high standards for safe shooting.
“We staff our ranges with certified range safety officers to ensure safe firearms handling and shooting. Our club has always maintained a safe shooting record,” he said.
The club president suggested in a prepared statement that the shot could have originated from unauthorized shooting in the nearby area around the club and the school. The club and the school are in a large “no shooting area” established by the Pierce County Council more than a decade ago. The club’s range is allowed as a regulated business.
“We have no influence on any shooting that takes place outside TSC property,” Higginbotham said. “We have an interest in safe shooting and believe that is best accomplished at established, managed ranges such as the ones run by TSC.”
Seigel said he thinks the shot might have come from the range.
“The president of the club informed me there were three rifles being used on the range at the time of the incident, one of which was a 5.56 mm rifle,” he wrote. “Depending upon the source referenced, that caliber rifle bullet has a maximum range of at least 3,600 yards and, some say, over 4,000 yards. The distance from the rifle range to the school is about 1,400 yards.”
The school district superintendent asked for a review of safety ordinances and a technical review of the incident.
“Such a technical review is needed to ensure the range’s continued operation poses no lethal threat to the students, staff and parents of Frederickson Elementary School,” Seigel wrote.
Seigel, in a letter to Higginbotham, asked that the club halt the use of the east-facing range. The club continues to use the range.
The school superintendent said he’s no ballistics expert, but he owns 40 guns and uses them once or twice a month to hunt or target practice. He suggested the club install a series of wooden baffles on the range to prevent a bullet fired at a high angle from leaving the range.
The letter was the second time in recent weeks that Seigel expressed his concerns about the safety of schoolchildren in the semi-rural area of the county.
He also has asked the county to restudy its proposal to relax its restrictions on gun use in a 2,000-acre area in the Kapowsin-Graham area because of the proximity of Kapowsin Elementary School to the border of that proposed area.
The council deferred indefinitely a vote on the proposal.
Seigel said he believes that a compromise could be reached that could allow shotguns or low-powered guns but restrict high-powered rifles and pistols.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663