For years, Cotee River Elementary School has had to deal with the sounds of gunfire coming from nearby woods used for hunting and target practice.
Typically, it is the physical education teachers who hear the gunshots while students are at recess. The teachers move the students inside and contact the front office.
Once that happens, the school, 7515 Plathe Road, is placed on what’s called a “controlled campus.”
“We limit all outdoor activities and we bring all the children inside for the remainder of the day,” Principal Lou Cerreta said. “It’s obviously a precautionary measure to keep everyone safe.”
Cerreta said there have been no shell casings found on campus and the school has never been struck by a bullet. The gunfire apparently is occurring more than a mile away from the school, Cerreta said.
The property is private and no trespassing signs are posted, according to the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. The corporation that owns the undeveloped land has given the agency permission to cite anyone found trespassing on the property.
Members of the agency’s Environmental Crimes Unit used ATVs and 4-wheel vehicles to patrol the property during the second week in March. Five individuals were levied with trespassing warnings after they were found on the property. None of them were armed, according to the sheriff’s office.
“Patrol deputies and members of the (Student Resource Officer) Unit have checked the area in response to these calls and even walked the wooded area in attempts to locate the source of the shooting,” Lt. J.R. Law said in an email. “Deputies also perform directed patrols at and near the school. There is also a deputy who lives on campus at this school and assists with monitoring for activity in the wooded area near the school.”
Since then, the school, which returns from spring break on Tuesday, has had no gunfire incidents.
So what could people be hunting on the land?
“Oh, there’s some good stuff back there,” Cerreta said, chuckling. “There’s wild pig, there’s deer. I’ve seen quite a bit of the wild pigs. And then some of them go out there to do some target shooting.”
When it comes to parents’ reaction, it’s sort of a mixed bag. Many are satisfied with the actions taken by the school and sheriff’s office, but others prefer to keep their children out of possible danger.
“Of course, it’s unnerving for the parents to know that it is going on, but for the most part, they’re pretty happy with our responsiveness as well as the sheriff’s office is taking it very seriously,” Cerreta said.
Some have requested their child stay indoors for the duration of the school day.
Because it appears the school isn’t a target, Cerreta equates this to an outdoor sporting event when a thunderstorm approaches.
“It’s just like people who are out on the field and there’s lightning off in the distance,” he said. “You see the lightning and you hear the thunder — time to bring everyone in.”