If something seems amiss, a little out of the ordinary, or the least bit suspicious, pay attention to your curiosity and have a supervisor or school resource officer promptly investigate, said Senior Detective David Pustizzi of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department.
Pustizzi’s department is handling the case of an Indian River High School student who in January brought a loaded gun into school — in a case and covered with a blanket — and told educators throughout the day that it was a science experiment.
“Even if there is no reason on the surface to doubt, don’t take anything for granted,” Pustizzi said, confirming the student had a violent plan of action.
When the 15-year-old student arrived at his 10th grade earth science class about noon — two-thirds of the way through the school day — he told teacher Robert Kuba he had an experiment on conduction he wanted to show him. Kuba asked him to wait until the end of class. At about 12:30 the student brought forward what Kuba said was a “very bulky” item.
When the student uncovered it, Kuba saw it was a gun case. The student opened it and Kuba saw the gun.
“I beat him to it,” Kuba recalled. “I grabbed the barrel with my right hand and put my left hand on the student. I grabbed his wrist. He didn’t fight me for it.”
Kuba took the loaded .22 caliber rifle, holding the barrel away from the 21 students in the second-story classroom, and quickly walked the student to a science storage room in the back of the class. Then he called the main office for help.
“Mr. Kuba’s actions and attentions averted a tragedy that day,” Detective Pustizzi said.
“It could’ve been very different. It’s nice we’ve been able to appreciate what we have instead of mourning losses,” said fellow science teacher Carmine Inserra, president of the Indian River Educators Association.
Students are known to carry sports equipment and backpacks in school. However, “If something raises your suspicions, there’s a reason for it,” Pustizzi said. “If you don’t feel comfortable checking it out, call your supervisor or school resource officer.”
Indian River’s school resource officer Carrie Mangino of the sheriff’s department, who was in the high school, responded to Kuba’s call for assistance, along with administrators. The sheriff’s department was called just before 1 p.m. and the school was put on lockdown for about an hour. Pustizzi said two police dogs were brought to the scene to sniff for gun powder, guns and explosives.
Kuba’s swift, firm actions have generated accolades: He was recently presented the distinguished New York State Senate Liberty Award for heroic actions, in a ceremony conducted by state Sen. Patty Ritchie, R- Heuvelton.
“Many people think the job of a teacher is just to teach but, as we’ve seen with this incident, it’s much more than that,” said Ritchie, who represents this small, rural area near the Canadian border.
Gratitude also came from parents of students, who thanked Kuba at a dinner, and from NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, who called Kuba to thank him for protecting students and staff that day.
“We all need to continue to work together to find more ways to keep our schools and workplaces safe,” said Kathleen Donahue, NYSUT vice president who oversees health and safety.
Kuba, a graduate of SUNY Potsdam, is a 25-year veteran teacher and the son of retired Greenwich Teachers Association science teacher Robert Kuba.