- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah elementary school teacher who was carrying a concealed firearm at school was struck by fragments from a bullet and a porcelain toilet when her gun accidentally fired in a faculty bathroom on Thursday, officials said.

The sixth-grade teacher at Westbrook Elementary School, in the Salt Lake City suburb of Taylorsville, was injured when the bullet struck a toilet and caused it to explode, Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said.

Authorities initially thought the teacher had accidentally shot herself. They now believe she was injured when the bullet and toilet fragments struck her lower leg.

The teacher, identified as Michelle Ferguson-Montgomery, was in good condition Thursday afternoon in a Salt Lake City hospital, Horsley said.

No listed phone number for Ferguson-Montgomery was available.

No other faculty or students witnessed the shooting, but they might have heard the gunshot or seen the teacher as she was helped out of the school to a waiting ambulance, he said.

Classes continued as usual Thursday, and crisis counselors were available, Horsley said.

Officials were still investigating how the gun discharged. “This just appears at this point in time to be an accident,” he said.

Horsley said Ferguson-Montgomery has been a teacher with the school for 14 years but he did not have her age. She was carrying her gun legally with a concealed-firearm permit, Horsley said.

Utah is among the few states that allow people with concealed-weapons permits to carry guns in public schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Teachers are not required to disclose that they are carrying a weapon, and administrators are prohibited from asking if they carry or barring them from bringing their weapons.

Educators have said they have no way of determining how many Utah teachers are armed, but gun-rights advocates estimated several years ago that 1 percent, or about 240 teachers in the state, are licensed to carry weapons.

The Granite School District requires teachers who carry guns at school to keep the weapons on their body at all times, even in a bathroom stall.

The school district will review a police report of the incident, Horsley said. He wouldn’t comment on whether Ferguson-Montgomery could face disciplinary action for the accidental firing of her gun.

Thursday’s incident “is exactly what we are working against,” said Miriam Walkingshaw, co-founder of Utah Parents Against Gun Violence, which is opposed to guns in schools. The risk of having any guns near children is greater than any risk teachers hope to prevent, she said.

Gun-rights advocates said teachers can act faster than law enforcement in the first few minutes of any attack at a school.

“The idea of having these firearms in these schools is that there’s no way anyone can prevent a mass shooting from starting,” Utah state Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, said Thursday. “The idea is to either be able to slow it down or stop it and to minimize the carnage.”

For several years, gun instructors have been offering free training to teachers, an effort in which Oda has been involved. He estimates that at least 500 teachers have gone through classes in recent years.

He said Utah has allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons for 13 years and this is the first problem he can recall.

“It’s an unfortunate accident. She is human,” Oda said.

A similar incident occurred in 2009 in the bathroom of a Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Centerville, Utah. A customer’s concealed weapon accidentally fell out of a holster, hit the floor and fired, shattering the toilet.

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Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice

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