Two 16-year-old Oakdale high school students have been charged with felonies for taking a loaded handgun to school and carrying it around during morning classes.

The boys, both students at Tartan High School, were charged Monday in Washington County District Court with possession of dangerous weapons on school property. Their names, Abinadab Tesfahunen and Nathan Neng Xiong, were made public because of the felony charges and because they meet the minimum age for disclosure.

The handgun was loaded with 13 bullets, and although no shots were fired and no round was in the chamber, students and staff members were in imminent danger, said Tony Zdroik, the juvenile division chief in the Washington County attorney's office.

"As soon as anybody brings a weapon through the front door of the school, everyone's safety is compromised," Zdroik said. "It was being carried in the halls of the school, it wasn't secured, it was a threat to everybody in that school."

The school's police resource officer, Tom Higgins, was alerted by a teacher May 11 that two students had seen a handgun in Tesfahunen's backpack, the complaint said. Assistant Principal Eric Fort searched the backpack and found the gun, which Higgins determined was a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson loaded with ammunition.

The complaint detailed the incident this way:

Tesfahunen told police he "was curious about the handgun and wanted to hold it," and asked Xiong to bring it to school. Xiong took the handgun from his father's hunting gear at their Maplewood house that morning and carried it in his backpack until the end of the second-hour class period. Tesfahunen then took the gun from Xiong and put it in his own backpack.

Two witnesses told police they had seen the gun in Tesfahunen's backpack during their fourth-hour class. Tesfahunen, of Oakdale, said he had planned to return the gun to Xiong when school ended that day.

Tartan High School has more than 1,700 students in grades 9-12.

Tesfahunen and Xiong weren't arrested, but both will appear in court next week. Tesfahunen will make his initial appearance on May 26. Xiong will appear on May 27.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037