By Greg Jones
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs Office
In an incident earlier this fall, a student found a realistic looking toy gun on a school bus. The student took pictures of the toy, and the pictures were later posted on a popular social media site.
The incident was investigated, and as it turns out, the gun was a spring-loaded (not air-charged) plastic pellet pistol that shoots small plastic balls at a low velocity. In fact, when tested the toy gun fired a projectile at a piece of paper from eight inches away and the projectile bounced off of the paper.
The toy gun had been left on the bus by a student who had brought it to school.
While toy guns like this are not specifically prohibited by Department of Defense Dependents School policy, air-soft guns (which have a much higher muzzle velocity) are.
The incident sparked significant discussion on social media, which ultimately did not accurately reflect the facts of the incident. Postings like this can create security risks, and can create undue panic within the community, according to Col. John P. Stack, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart.
“This is a force protection issue that is better addressed with law enforcement officials, instead of on social media,” said Stack.
While the gun in this incident did turn out to be a harmless toy, it could have been more serious. Proper reporting of this type of information is important to operational security and the investigation process, according to Detective Darrell Robertson, an investigator with USAG Stuttgart Provost Marshal Office, who emphasized that the Provost Marshal takes all of these incidents very seriously.
Robertson offered advice on information people should remember when reporting incidents.
“Everything reported is investigated,” he said. “We need to know the who, what, where and when, to the greatest extent possible. This helps us to more effectively investigate.”
Details about the suspicious event or item can be important, and greater detail can help investigators get to the truth much more quickly. If you are not able to report the incident immediately, it is a good idea to jot down notes on a piece of paper.
Additionally, suspicious items should not be picked up or touched by anyone. In this incident the child picked up what could have been a real weapon. Parents are encouraged to talk to their children not only about safety concerns of picking up suspicious items, but also about reporting them to proper authorities immediately.
Stack, as the commander responsible for most investigations in the Stuttgart military community, also emphasized the importance of prompt and proper reporting to authorities.
“If you see suspicious activities or find something like the toy gun found in this incident, please, call the Provost Marshal right away,” he said. “My investigators and MPs can do something that social media can’t: get the facts, conduct an investigation and respond to an incident properly.”
What to remember when reporting incidents:
Who found the object or witnessed the incident or activity? Who else was involved? Who is reporting the incident?
Think about descriptions of people involved, including height, weight, apparent age, skin tone, distinctive hair styles and clothing.
Describe the suspicious activity or item. Think about the size, colors, material of the item, or a narrative description of the suspicious event or activity.
If vehicles are involved try to get a license plate number, and also be able to answer these questions: What make and model? What color? What year (or apparent year range)? Four-door or two-door? Sedan, coupe or other type of vehicle?
Provide the most precise time and date possible.
What installation? What building? Which room or office? Near what well-known location? At what address?