Two 13-year-old Lakeland Highlands Middle School students were arrested and charged with several felonies after one of the students was found with a handgun on school grounds the first week of January.

A report from Lakeland Highlands Middle School Resource Officer Cedrick Holton, a Lakeland Police officer, showed that a female student found the gun on Jan. 5 inside a backpack and immediately brought the backpack to Assistant Principal Stephanie Huber. Holton was called to the school at about 3 p.m. and met Huber in a stairwell.

“I possibly have a firearm in this backpack,” Huber told Holton.

Holton searched the backpack and found a black and tan .40 caliber Smith & Wesson.

“The magazine was loaded into the firearm but was not chambered,” Holton wrote in his report. “One round was located in the magazine. No other rounds were located in the backpack. School work was located inside the backpack belonging to (the first suspect). ‘Cougar Cash,’ a reward given from teachers, was also located inside of the backpack labeled (to the first suspect).”

The school was placed on lockdown for approximately five minutes until the suspect could be found.

Holton wrote that he read the first student his Miranda rights with his mother present at the school then interviewed him. The boy told Holton that “he had the gun in his bookbag all day after getting the gun from another student at the beginning of the school day. (The suspect) also admitted to taking a picture of the firearm and post(ing) it on Snapchat … which he later deleted to avoid detection.”

Holton arrested him and took him to the Juvenile Assessment Center in Bartow.

The second suspect was identified and questioned the next day after being read his rights. He was told that he had been seen removing a firearm from his backpack, handing the firearm to the first suspect, who gave him cash for the gun.

Holton arrested him and took him to the Juvenile Assessment Center in Bartow.

Lakeland Police Chief Sam Taylor said he found no evidence that a threat was made toward a student or staff member by either student involved.

“Student safety is a top priority, and our school resource officers are there to respond without hesitation when a situation arises,” Taylor said. “We take ALL threats seriously and investigate each thoroughly. We also want to commend the students who assisted in the investigation and the school staff for immediately responding to ensure all safety procedures were followed.”

Polk County Public Schools spokesman Kyle Kennedy said the school staff worked quickly with law enforcement to investigate. LHMS administration also worked with the PCPS’ Safe Schools staff and senior leadership to evaluate the situation and develop a communication plan to inform LHMS families of what took place, and reassure them that everyone was safe.

LHMS staff conducted random searches of students on Friday, Jan. 6, and Monday, Jan. 9. There was also additional security on campus. On both Friday and Monday, additional automated phone calls and emails were sent to all LHMS families.

“Lakeland Highlands Middle is a safe school and has no history of such events,” Kennedy wrote in a statement. “We want to commend the student who followed our safety protocols and made us aware of the presence of a weapon on campus. The school team and resource officer should also be commended for their quick actions and adherence to our established safety procedures. Their work resulted in our ability to identify the student involved and take appropriate action. The student involved will be disciplined to the fullest extent in accordance with our Student Code of Conduct, and will also face serious legal consequences.” 

The first student is charged with:

  • Possession of a firearm on school property
  • Carrying and concealing a firearm

The second student is charged with:

  • Possession of a firearm on school property
  • Carrying and concealing a firearm
  • Selling weapons to a minor

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Kimberly C. Moore

Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at or 863-272-9250.

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  1. When the parents of these children or the persons responsible for allowing them to have access to these weapons serve time in jail this stuff will continue to happen.

  2. Great article. Now the rumors can be squashed. Thank goodness it was handled swiftly. The Principal and teachers should be commended. My family thanks them for keeping our children safe.

  3. If those two students are Black or Hispanic, they will get prosecuted. Back in the late 1990s I was a teacher there and a rich white student was caught selling illegal drugs to several students and his rich dad pitched a fit to the court’s prosecutor and his case was thrown out. As a matter of fact the school’s resource officer got in trouble for arresting the student and for doing his job. There’s NO justice in Polk County!

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