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The father of a St. George, Utah 15-year-old who was killed by a blank-loaded prop gun Saturday before a school play said he was astonished the teen had been allowed to handle the weapon without supervision.
''It's a bad dream, everything is sucked out of me," said Ron Thayer, whose son Tucker died while handling the gun. "The question we have is why there was a real gun allowed in school . . . you don't hand a lethal weapon to a 15-year-old and say, 'Be careful.' "
Thayer was especially saddened and bewildered when he remembered Desert Hills High School's reaction to a wooden-rifle prop last month. Tucker, a stage hand for the school's production of "Oklahoma!," repaired the prop at home and brought it back to school Oct. 10. Someone saw the fake gun, called police, and the school was locked down for more than an hour as officers cleared the potential threat.
That was exactly the right reaction, Thayer said. What he can't understand is how the real gun, a .38-caliber pistol, slipped through the cracks.
Police are asking the same questions.
"We do know it was in a locked case, but how much access did this 15-year-old have?" said St. George police Sgt. James Van Fleet.
The gun somehow fired at about 6:20 p.m. Saturday as Tucker removed it from the locked cabinet in preparation for a show an hour later, Van Fleet said. The shot hit Tucker in the head, and despite being rushed to the hospital, he was dead before 10 p.m.
Marshall Topham, assistant superintendent for secondary education in the Washington County School District, said he wasn't aware that real weapons were used. A school policy prohibits guns or look-alikes on school property, though exceptions were made for the wooden "Oklahoma!" props, Topham said.
"The question is what restrictions and stipulations the school administrators and resource office had put on its use," he said. "At this point, I'm just not aware of all the details."
Ron Thayer said he was not informed that his son would be handling the blank-loaded pistol.
"If I knew, I would have been down there in a second," he said.
While his Eagle Scout son knew how to use shotguns and .22-caliber rifles, he had never been trained how to use a pistol because he wasn't old enough. And Tucker didn't know how dangerous blanks can be, his father said.
"He was a 15-year-old kid. A lot of adults don'trealize a blank can actually kill you," he said.
Though the cartridges are tipped with plastic or cardboard instead of metal, they still contain gunpowder and primer. Hot gas from that small explosion can be deadly at close range, Van Fleet said.
None of three stagehands in the sound booth with Tucker saw the shot, and police don't know how the gun went off.
Meanwhile, Ron Thayer, his wife, Cathie, and their three other children are mourning Tucker, the teenager who hiked in Zion National Park and loved Harry Potter books. He was called "Truffle" by a Boy Scout friend because he was like the candy - hard on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside, Tucker's father said.
He had helped out with plays in middle school, and relished his workwith "Oklahoma!" He built sets with his father's power tools and helped to set up lighting and sound.
"He didn't want to be an actor, but he loved being behind the scenes," he said. "I'm not mad at any teachers or any kids, but I feel like the school district let us down."
SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
 

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I can hear the calls for legislative action to ban blanks from being used. "It's for the children."
 
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