AUSTIN (KXAN) — A team member found a handgun inside a diaper bag, near toddlers playing on the floor, at at a family retreat held at the Texas School for the Deaf, school officials said. The discovery did not trigger a lockdown and police were not contacted.
KXAN was alerted to the incident — which occurred less than two weeks after the deadly school shooting in Uvalde — by several concerned participants who wished to remain anonymous.
Over that weekend, families of deaf or hard-of-hearing children from across the state gathered at the Austin campus for the Family Weekend Retreat.
“Those involved in running the weekend event were notified but a high ranking executive team leader overruled the entire staff and prevented proper lockdown procedures from taking place,” one participant said in an email, adding “failure to follow proper protocol put all of the families, children and staff members at risk, had the situation gone badly.”
After waiting a week to respond to a list of detailed questions provided by KXAN — including whether the gun was loaded — TSD spokesperson Gabriel Cardenas refused to comment. Instead, he forwarded us a letter dated June 9 — four days after the incident — sent to parents the day after KXAN first reached out seeking comment on June 8. The letter was signed by TSD Chief Financial Officer Justin Wedel.
TSD sent KXAN the letter on June 15.
Shortly after 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 5, a team member working in the Early Learning Center discovered the gun in a diaper bag “nearby” to where toddlers were playing on the floor, Wedel wrote in the letter. That person “immediately messaged for assistance.” It is unclear who was contacted.
A staff member drove around with the gun while attempting to locate and return the firearm to its owner, who was allowed to leave without an escort, according to at least two people with knowledge of the situation.
The owner of the diaper bag was identified, told to leave, and left the campus with family, Wedel wrote to parents.
The school did not say who was called to assist but at least two participants told KXAN that neither security nor police were called. Austin police confirm school officials “took care of the situation” internally.
“School officials did not file a report with APD,” said Austin Police Dept. spokesperson Brandon Jones. “As stated in the letter sent to parents, school officials took care of the situation.”
“To minimize the risk to others, the diaper bag was immediately removed from the area since there were toddlers playing on the floor nearby,” Wedel wrote. “PLEASE NOTE that at no time was the gun removed from the bag. As such, a school wide lockdown was not activated.”
It is unclear why the presence of a gun did not warrant a lockdown or why it was brought to the campus in the first place. KXAN requested a copy of the TSD lockdown policy to see if the discovery of a gun should have prompted a lockdown. The school says that information is confidential and is challenging the release of records with the Texas Attorney General’s office.
“We would like to reinforce there was no threat to the TSD campus and our facilities are secure,” Wedel wrote to parents.
In response to the incident, the school said it “takes these situations seriously” and held several meetings with key staff members. As a result, additional safety measures are being “considered to further minimize the chance of a recurrence” including communication technologies, more staff training and “physical security enhancements for the campus,” Wedel wrote.
“There are many employees and staff who are now very concerned about their safety as well as children on the campus,” a person with knowledge of the event, who wished to remain anonymous, told KXAN.
Guns are prohibited from campus, according to the school’s code of conduct handbook.
In 2015, a man was arrested after he was accused of threatening to “shoot up” the Austin-based school for deaf students.