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Six-year-old shoots teacher in Virginia

By AI HEPING in New York | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-01-08 11:42

Six-year-old boy shoots his teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, USA. [Photo/Agencies]

A six-year-old student shot his first grade school teacher in Virginia during an "altercation", according to police.

"This was not an accidental shooting," Police Chief Steve Drew said Friday evening of the shooting that occurred at about 2 pm Friday. He said the child and the teacher had the "altercation" before a single shot from a handgun was fired at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, a city of more than 180,000 people, about 70 miles southeast of Richmond, Virginia. Drew told reporters it didn't appear that the student and teacher knew each other beyond the classroom environment.

The teacher -- identified as Abigail "Abby" Zwerner, 25, by Fox3 Now News -- suffered "life threatening injuries" from the shooting, authorities said Friday. She was in "stable condition and trending in a positive direction", Mayor Phillip Jones told USA Today Saturday afternoon.

The boy was taken into police custody following the shooting, Drew said. No students were injured in the shooting. He said that school officials had quickly brought all students and teachers to the school's gymnasium and authorities had been in touch with lawyers to determine how to best proceed.

Police haven't said where the boy got the firearm or if any adults have been questioned about the shooting. A representative for the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told ABC News the agency is assisting in the investigation by tracing the firearm that was recovered on the scene.

Virginia law doesn't allow six-year-olds to be charged as adults, according to The Associated Press, nor can he be placed into the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice if he is found guilty of any charges, according to The Associated Press. But a juvenile judge could place the child under the purview of the Department of Social Services.

Andrew Block, a law professor at the University of Virginia and the former director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, told USA Today that authorities might file a petition stating the child needs services such as counseling. It is more likely authorities will focus on providing services to the boy in the interest of rehabilitation rather than punishment, he said.

Sebastian Gonzalez-Hernandez told Fox3 his six-year-old son was in the class when the shooting happened.

"She screamed at her kids to run away" after being shot, Gonzalez-Hernandez told Fox3.

He said his son heard the gun go off and turned to see Zwerner collapse before he ran from the classroom.

Trannisha Brown, whose 11-year-old son, Carter Jackson, is a fifth-grader at Richneck, said in an interview with The New York Times that shortly after the shooting, she received a frightening call from her son Carter. He sheltered on the floor of his classroom with his friends after they heard gunfire.

"It shook me up hearing those kids crying and going frantic," said his mother. "All they knew was that there was a shooter in the school and they didn't know where the shooter was."

She stayed on the phone with Carter, trying to comfort him. "You are going to be all right," she recalled telling him.

George Parker, superintendent of Newport News public schools, said students at the Richneck school won't return to the school Monday as they deal with the aftermath of the tragedy.

He said that while district schools have "metal detection capability", the schools don't make children walk through a metal detector every day.  "If we have a perceived threat, or an issue, we administer random metal detections on those days," he said.

The shooting comes less than two months after a Walmart store manager shot and killed six of his coworkers, then himself, in Chesapeake, Virginia, just under 40 miles away.

Data from the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety showed in 2022 that there were at least 301 accidental shootings by children in the US, causing 133 deaths and 180 injuries.

An estimated 4.6 million children in the US were living in a home with at least one unlocked and loaded gun in 2021, according to a study using data from the National Firearm Survey.

"A six-year-old gaining access to a loaded gun and shooting him/herself or someone else, sadly, is not so rare," Daniel Webster, a professor who studies gun violence at Johns Hopkins University, told The AP.

The Times reported that according to a database that tracks all incidents of gun violence, four cases dating back to 1970 involved children aged six and younger.

Two involved six-year-olds and were accidental shootings. The third occurred in Feb 2000 when a six-year-old boy shot a female classmate to death. He wasn't charged because authorities said he was too young to understand what happened. An adult was sentenced for involuntary manslaughter for making the gun accessible to the boy, who lived in the same house. Police said the gun was stored in a shoe box.

The youngest incident on record happened in 2013, when a five-year-old kindergartener fired a gun in a cafeteria. No one was injured in that incident.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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