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Teacher Abby Zwerner shot by 6-year-old, Virginia law does not allow 6-year-olds to be tried as adults

Six-year-olds cannot be tried as adults under Virginia law. A 6-year-old is also too young to be committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice’s care if proven guilty.

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The teacher who was wounded by a 6-year-old student in Newport News, Virginia, is showing signs of improvement, the city’s mayor said Saturday, as officials struggle to comprehend how a child so young could be involved in a school shooting.

As she remains hospitalised, the status of the teacher, a woman in her 30s, is “improving,” according to Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones. Saturday morning, Police Chief Steve Drew visited with the teacher’s family. She is currently classified in stable condition, according to a police news release.

According to officials, the child shot and wounded the teacher with a handgun in a first-grade classroom at Richneck Elementary School on Friday. The gunshot, according to Drew, was not accidental and was the result of an altercation. No students were wounded.

In order to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation, the police did not provide any specifics regarding what led up to the altercation or anything else that took place within the classroom on Saturday.

Jones did not disclose any information about the shooting, including the circumstances around how the child obtained the firearm or the identity of the person who possessed it.

“This is a red flag for the country,” Jones said.

“After this happened, I believe there will be a national conversation about how to prevent similar occurrences.”

Under Virginia law, 6-year-olds cannot be tried as adults. A 6-year-old is also too young to be placed in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice if he or she is found guilty.

However, a juvenile judge could withdraw parental custody and place a child under the supervision of the Department of Social Services.

Jones refused to disclose where the child is being held.

“We are ensuring he has all the services that he currently needs right now,” Jones said.

According to experts who study gun violence, it is highly rare for a small child to bring a firearm to school and injure a teacher.

David Riedman, the founder of a database that analyses school shootings in the United States since 1970, stated, “It’s extremely rare, and the judicial system isn’t really built or positioned to deal with it.”

Saturday, he stated that he is only aware of three previous shootings committed by 6-year-olds within the time period he has researched. These include the deadly shooting of a fellow student in Michigan in 2000, as well as the injuring of other students in Texas in 2011 and Mississippi in 2021.

Riedman stated that he is only aware of one other incidence of a student younger than that inadvertently discharging a firearm at school, which occurred in 2013 when a 5-year-old student took a gun to a Tennessee school and accidentally fired it. No one was hurt in this incident.

Daniel W. Webster, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who researches gun violence, concurred that a 6-year-old shooting a teacher at school is an extraordinarily rare occurrence. However, according to his research, young children are increasingly gaining access to loaded firearms and accidentally shooting themselves or others in homes and other settings.

“Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a 6-year-old to acquire access to a loaded gun and shoot themselves or someone else,” he wrote in an email.

Drew stated on Friday that the gunshot in the Newport News case didn’t seem to be an accident and that it was specific to the one victim. He said that the teacher and pupil had interacted in a classroom context.

“We did not have a situation where someone was going around the school shooting,” Drew told reporters.

Investigators were attempting to determine how he came into possession of the firearm.

The police chief declined to comment on investigators’ communications with the boy’s parents.

Drew stated, “We have been in communication with our commonwealth’s attorney (local prosecutor) and other institutions to assist us in providing the finest assistance to this young kid.”


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