Durham sheriff’s deputies arrested two Hillside High School students this week and charged them with possession of stolen handguns on campus.

Sheriff’s deputies charged both students with one count each of possession of a stolen firearm, and possession of a weapon on educational property, according to a press release Thursday from the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.

Owing to the ages of the students, the sheriff’s office did not release their  names.

The students were taken into custody after members of Hillside’s security staff told the sheriff’s school resource officers (SRO) on the campus that there was a “possibility” that a student “was planning to bring a weapon to campus today,” according to the Thursday press release.

Security staffers identified the student who was questioned Thursday morning when he arrived on campus by SROs.

“It was discovered that the juvenile was in fact in possession of a handgun,” according to the release. 

While questioning the first student, officers learned that a second student may have been on the campus armed with a firearm.

“This individual was also questioned and found to have a handgun as well,” according to the sheriff’s release.  

School authorities’ successful effort to nip in the bud potential acts of deadly violence comes less than a year after the Bull City’s former police chief Steve Chalmers helped to organize a cease-fire initiative with a weekend of activities throughout several neighborhoods, including the old Hillside Park, and Hillside High. 

As the INDY reported, the initiative was part of a community group effort in several Durham neighborhoods to kick off a day of peace at the tail end of one of the city’s deadliest years on record. 

Prominent among the weekend activities was the production of a play, State of Urgency, directed by the school’s legendary, award-winning theater arts educator, Wendell Tabb.

The late-November Hillside performance run began on a Friday night and ended with a Sunday afternoon matinee. The performances featured a massive, 80-foot-long, five-foot-wide quilt that lists the names of 910 people who have been murdered in the Bull City since 1994. The quilt was on display in the lobby of the Gattis-Tabb Theatre.

On Saturday evening, Durham County sheriff Clarence Birkhead spoke before the curtain raised for Hillside High School’s drama department’s moving, riveting performance about social justice issues in Durham and across the country. Prior to Birkhead’s short speech, a group of Durham parents who have lost their children to gun violence also spoke to the audience.

Tabb, a Tony Award–winning educator, told the audience that he wrote the play and then asked his students to submit topics and opinions that were important to them. 

“Listen to their dialogue carefully because it’s young people speaking to you,” Tabb said. “During the civil rights movement it was the voices of the young people wanting change.”

More than 40 young people offered poetry, stories, monologues, songs, and dances, all augmented by music and a collage of videos to share how violence has shaped their lives and world-views. Photos of some of the city’s homicide victims appeared on the stage’s triplex of screens.

In Thursday’s press release, Birkhead thanked Hillside principal William Logan and his staff for helping to ward off the deadly danger posed by the two armed students on campus.

 “In this instance, the system worked as it is supposed to,” Birkhead said. “Someone saw or heard about a potential threat and spoke up.” 

The sheriff’s office also encouraged parents to discuss safety issues with their students to keep all school campuses safe. The sheriff’s office asked parents and caregivers to remind their students about “See Something Say Something,” an anonymous system that enables students to report rumors “about a threat to a school, community.”

Durham Public Schools utilizes the system in partnership with Sandy Hook Promise, a nationwide nonprofit founded and led by several family members whose children were killed by a teen gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. The goal of the Newtown, Connecticut-based organization is to empower young people to “know the signs” and unite all people who value the protection of children, in order to “take meaningful actions in schools, homes, and communities to prevent gun violence and stop the tragic loss of life.”

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Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com.