Two students found with replica guns at Willmar Senior High on last day of school

Airsoft guns aren't real guns, but they can look like the real thing. A student was found to have carried an airsoft gun into the Willmar Senior High School Friday afternoon, the last day of school for the year. In a separate incident, another student had a splatball gun, which shoots small paintballs, in his possession in the school.

Tribune file photo Willmar Senior High School building
Willmar Senior High School building
West Central Tribune file photo
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WILLMAR — The school year came to an eventful end Friday at Willmar Senior High School.

Two 15-year-old male students were found to have brought non-lethal firearms into the school. The guns were found at nearly the same time Friday afternoon.

One boy had an airsoft replica gun that looked like a handgun, Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt said Tuesday. Airsoft guns shoot small pellets, but they can look like real firearms.

The second boy had a splatball gun that shoots mini paintballs, Felt said.

The two incidents did not seem to be related, he said.


Jeff Holm, Willmar Superintendent
Contributed / Willmar Public Schools

Superintendent Jeff Holm said Tuesday the airsoft gun was reported at about 2:20 p.m. Friday. The Senior High normally releases classes at 2:45 p.m.

“People jumped into action,” Holm said in a phone interview.

The school resource officer, a Willmar Police Department officer stationed at the school, was contacted and investigated the report.

Felt said alert students saw what the boys had and told adults.

Both boys were released to their parents and were not charged, though charges may come later, Felt said.

According to a letter Principal Paul Schmitz sent to parents and families of students about the airsoft gun, the gun was not discharged and wasn’t used to threaten anyone. The situation was handled mostly after students had left for the day, Schmitz wrote.

“It’s something we just need to be constantly on our toes about it,” Holm said. “Safety is never far from my thoughts.”

The district is working on an update of its crisis plans this summer, he said. A group of school and law enforcement officials, joined by the district’s communications consultant, will update the plan, which addresses all sorts of situations, including storms, fires or violent incidents.


Holm said he hopes to develop a stronger plan for reunifying children and parents after an emergency situation.

“There’s a feeling of vulnerability for schools,” he said.

“We keep our buildings locked,” he said, “but we have to look at the delicate balance to make sure everyone is completely safe, but we don’t want schools to look like armed fortresses.”

Schools still need to be seen as welcoming places for kids, he said.

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To try to help troubled young people, he said, the school district has used pandemic relief funds to add to its social work staff.

Holm said he doesn’t support arming teachers. “Our staff did not enter this line of work to be a substitute law enforcement officer,” he said.

He said he prefers the district’s contract with the Willmar Police Department to provide officers in the school who are trained to carry weapons.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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