Children he leads in activities at the Logan Recreation Center after school call Victor Simmons 'Teddy' because his warm and nurturing personality reminds them of a teddy bear.

He’s called "Teddy" by the children he leads in activities at the Logan Recreation Center after school because his warm and nurturing personality reminds them of a teddy bear.


But he’s also accused of having a .22-caliber handgun and several bullets in his locker on Wednesday.


Victor D. Simmons is a 17-year-old who will graduate early from Woodruff High School, with hopes to pursue a nursing degree at Illinois Central College this fall.


That side of the senior doesn’t appear to mesh with the teenager who appeared Thursday afternoon in Peoria County Circuit Court on a felony unlawful use of a weapon charge that could send him to prison for up to five years.


"He’s a good kid. He’s never been in any kind of trouble," said his emotional father, John Simmons, immediately after a hearing where his son’s bond was set at $50,000. "They are trying to act like he hurt someone. He is a child. At least give him a chance."


Assistant State’s Attorney Dave Kenny said District 150 security had been tipped that the younger Simmons might have brought a gun to school earlier in the week. They searched his locker once and found nothing, the prosecutor said in open court.


Then, on Wednesday, shortly after classes started, Victor Simmons himself was searched and campus police checked his locker again later. There, they found the gun and ammunition in a black binder, Kenny said.


The recovery of the gun forced school officials to lock down the school and conduct a sweep of all the students’ lockers. No other weapons were found.


The gun, Simmons’ father said, did not belong to his son, but had come from someone else.


"I talked to him (Wednesday) about the gun and he said some kid gave it to him to get rid of and he just hadn’t yet," John Simmons said. "I know that having a gun is not right, but I don’t want to see them (authorities) take him through the ringer for something he can correct.


"He can correct himself on this. I’m not giving up on him. I love him," the older Simmons said.


The father struggled Thursday to understand how his son, who he’s never seen get into a fight, let alone smoke cigarettes, do drugs or hang out with gang members, could come into possession of a handgun.


"He’s really not out of our presence much. We’re always on him," John Simmons said.


Victor Simmons is enrolled in early bird classes at school, then heads to his job at the Logan Center that he’s had for a year and a half immediately after classes end. His father picks him up in the evening and takes him home, where a 10 p.m. curfew is strictly enforced during the week.


"I adore him," said Terri Cannon, manager at the Logan Center, of her employee. "This gun-toting thug that people are making him out to be is not the person I know."


Cannon and John Simmons both agree the usually well-behaved teen must have buckled under peer pressure or felt threatened, which caused him to have a gun.


"If they knew Victor they know he is a great kid with a wonderful personality, but there was something that happened to cause this," the elder Simmons said. "This is not his normal being."


Victor Simmons has no prior criminal record, according to Peoria County court records.


His preliminary hearing was scheduled for May 15, though it’s likely a grand jury will hear the case before then. If he’s indicted, a new hearing date will be set for an arraignment. If convicted, he faces either probation or two to five years in prison.


Leslie Fark can be reached at (309) 686-3188 or lfark@pjstar.com. Andy Kravetz can be reached at (309) 686-3283 or akravetz@pjstar.com.