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Strobridge Elementary School principal Charles Hill displays toy guns, some appearing quite real, on Monday, June 10, 2013. The school hosted a toy gun turn-in event on Saturday, June 8, 2013, collecting almost 70, in Hayward, Calif. School (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

HAYWARD -- An elementary school principal says he was overwhelmed by the response to his school's toy gun trade-in Saturday, when children lined up to turn in dozens of play weapons.

Strobridge Elementary Principal Charles Hill, who said last week he organized the trade-in out of concern that children who play with toy guns may not take real weapons seriously, said he received more than 100 mostly positive emails about the event. One was from a resident of Newtown, Conn., the town where 20 students at Sandy Hook Elementary died Dec. 14 at the hands of a man armed with an assault weapon.

"When I get something like that email, it validates what we're doing. It brought tears to my eyes," Hill said.

Strobridge Elementary School principal Charles Hill displays toy guns, some appearing quite real, on Monday, June 10, 2013. The school hosted a toy gun
Strobridge Elementary School principal Charles Hill displays toy guns, some appearing quite real, on Monday, June 10, 2013. The school hosted a toy gun turn-in event on Saturday, June 8, 2013, collecting almost 70, in Hayward, Calif. School (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

In the email, Darren Wagner, former police officer and father of a Newtown High School student, expressed gratitude to Hill.

"As a parent who was lucky enough to have my kids come home from school on 12/14, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. ... Please know we here in Sandy Hook applaud your efforts to make a real change."

More than 200 people attended Saturday's safety fair at Strobridge. Students turned in an estimated 50 to 75 toy guns in exchange for a chance to win one of four bicycles, and everyone who attended received a book.

As students arrived at the campus, they found a table set up with books. They dropped their toy guns into a bucket, in exchange for raffle tickets for the bike drawing, and were allowed to pick out a book.

"Whether they had a gun or not, they could pick out a book for the summer. Any siblings with them could take a book, too," Hill said.

Parents accompanying the children thanked the principal. "They told me, 'This is great. We're all for it. We're glad you're doing it,'" he said. One mother told him she had felt pressured to buy a toy gun for her child because other children in the neighborhood had them.

The toy gun exchange was just one part of the fair, which also included fire safety, CPR demonstrations and gun safety, Hill said. "The whole intent was child safety as we head into the summer."

Hayward police Officer Bradon Wilson gave a talk on gun safety, telling students to never pick up a gun, because it could be loaded. Wilson also talked about how adults should store weapons.

"He showed some of the guns that were collected and compared them to real guns and how, in his judgment, if he saw that, he would assume it was a real gun," Hill said.

Hill said he had started thinking about the toy gun exchange after a photographer who takes students' school pictures expressed concern about the shootings of young people by police in Oakland. Police are rightfully fearful of being shot when they encounter so many armed suspects, said Hill, who also pointed to cases nationwide where police mistook a toy gun for a real one.

The principal said he and his staff plan to destroy the toy weapons.

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473.