A Massachusetts bus driver has been arrested after Norfolk middle school students found a gun on the school bus he was driving Thursday afternoon, authorities said.
David Tripp, 65, of Norfolk, was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment of a child, improper storage of a firearm near a minor, intimidation of a witness/juror/court official and carrying a firearm on campus, according to a joint statement from the Norfolk Police Department, Norfolk Public Schools and King Philip Regional School District Friday.
Norfolk police chief Charles Stone said this is an alarming incident.
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"It could have ended tragically," he said at a press conference. "We're thankful that no children were injured."
School officials said they were disturbed to learn of the allegation that someone in charge of children was carrying a weapon and leaving it where students could find it.
“We are shocked and appalled that this type of situation has occurred within our district," King Philip Regional School District Superintendent Paul Zinni said at a press conference Friday.
"I am furious, as our parents and community members should be, and we will be reviewing our contract with the bus company and at the very least demanding the driver's termination," Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent Ingrid Allardi said in a statement.
Around 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Norfolk police received a call from a parent who said their child reported a group of King Philip Middle School students saw a gun as they were getting on the bus at dismissal time, authorities said.
Police began investigating and notified school officials, who utilize Holmes Bus Company, a private bus service based in Norfolk, according to the statement.
After interviewing witnesses and reviewing surveillance footage from the bus, investigators determined the gun was found on a seat in the back of bus as students were boarding. No student touched the gun, authorities said.
“They did not touch the gun or pick it up," Zinni said. "They immediately understood that this was a potentially dangerous situation and acted accordingly.”
They said Tripp heard a commotion among children in the back of the bus and allegedly took the gun and put it in his pocket. He then continued on his route and did not report the incident to police or school officials.
There were about a dozen middle school students on the bus when the gun was found. Police interviewed Tripp on Friday and determined it was his firearm. He was arrested at his home without incident, authorities said.
"I want to commend our officers for their sense of urgency in conducting a thorough investigation, leading to this arrest," Chief Stone said in a statement. "We are extremely fortunate that no children were injured as a result of the suspect's reckless and dangerous conduct."
The gun fell out of Tripp's pocket while he was cleaning up the bus after dropping off Norfolk elementary school students. No elementary school students came in contact with or saw the firearm, authorities said.
The weapon was identified by police as a Smith & Wesson .45 caliber gun. When it was confiscated at Tripp's home Friday, it was loaded with seven rounds, but did not have a round in the chamber, authorities said.
"This is a deeply disturbing situation in which an employee entrusted with the care and transportation of school children allegedly put them in danger by not only carrying a firearm on a school bus but being so reckless as to lose it and allow a child to find it," Zinni said in a statement. "This was an incredibly dangerous situation that could have turned tragic in the blink of an eye."
Tripp does have a license to carry a firearm, but that will be immediately suspended, authorities said. Any and all firearms in his possession will also be seized by police.
Tripp will likely be arraigned Monday in Wrentham District Court, authorities said. It wasn't immediately clear if he had an attorney who could speak to the charges.
Both school districts require that all bus drivers undergo a criminal background check before being hired by Holmes Bus Company. Allardi said they will be reviewing the district's contract with the bus company, and at the very least demanding Tripp be fired immediately, saying what happened is completely unacceptable.
"I was horrified to learn about this incident and it is unconscionable that a person would bring a firearm onto a school bus full of children, let alone someone whose care of those children had been entrusted to them," she said in a statement.
“It is not okay to ever have any type of weapon near a student," Zinni said. "It’s not appropriate and not ok.”
Tripp, a driver of more than 15 years, has been banned from transporting children in both school districts, authorities said. But his employment status with his employer is not known at this point.
NBC10 Boston reached out to the bus company Friday night and was told someone will be available to speak about the issue Monday.
Families of all students who were on the bus will be contacted by school administrators and school counselors will be made available to students next week.