6-year-old who shot teacher in Newport News won't face criminal charges, prosecutor says
Category: News & PoliticsVia: perrie-halpern • 3 weeks ago • 45 comments
By: Erik Ortiz
The city prosecutor in Newport News, Virginia, said Wednesday that he would not seek charges against the 6-year-old boy who shot his elementary school teacher in January but has yet to decide whether any adults associated with the case could be held criminally liable.
In an interview with NBC News, Newport News Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn said the "prospect that a 6-year-old can stand trial is problematic" given that a child that young wouldn't have the competency to understand the legal system and what a charge means or adequately assist an attorney. It's not unheard of for an adolescent of that age to be arrested in general, and theoretically, a 6-year-old child could be criminally charged under Virginia law.
But Gwynn said that he does not believe there is a legal basis to charge a child and that his office, after receiving the case in February from Newport News police, is focusing on others.
"Our objective is not just to do something as quickly as possible," Gwynn said. "Once we analyze all the facts, we will charge any person or persons that we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt committed a crime."
Abigail Zwerner.Abby Zwerner via Facebook
The shooting on Jan. 6 at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News has led to a potential lawsuit expected to be filed on behalf of the teacher, Abigail Zwerner, the ouster of the school's superintendent and an assistant principal, and the installation of metal detectors.
According to a lawyer for Zwerner, a first-grade teacher, the boy had behavioral issues and a pattern of troubling interactions with school staff and other students. A notice of intent to sue said the boy was given a one-day suspension for breaking Zwerner's cellphone, and returned the next day with a 9mm handgun that he used to shoot his teacher in the classroom while she sat at a reading table.
Diane Toscano, Zwerner's lawyer, said at a news conference in January that three teachers went to the school administration about the boy's behavior and that he was believed to have had a gun on campus.
Toscano said the shooting was "entirely preventable" if the administration "had taken action when they had knowledge of imminent danger," adding, "But instead, they failed to act, and Abby was shot."
Zwerner, 25, was seriously wounded in a hand and her chest, but police said she still managed to safely escort about 20 students out of her classroom. She was hospitalized for nearly two weeks.
Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew has described the shooting as intentional. In a Facebook Live video last month in which he said prosecutors would begin reviewing the case, Drew told viewers that it took time for detectives to interview children and examine forensic evidence.
"This is a lot more than just someone bringing a gun to school and that gun was found," he said.
Lawyer for teacher shot by 6-year-old says school 'failed to act' after warnings
In the wake of the shooting, the family of the 6-year-old boy said in a statement that the weapon was "secured" in the home and that they have "always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children."
The family also said the boy has an acute disability and was receiving the "treatment he needs" under a court-ordered temporary detention at a medical facility.
Police said the child's mother legally purchased the gun he used, but haven't specified how he obtained it or if it was safely secured as the family has claimed.
Both a lawyer for the boy's family and the law firm representing Zwerner declined to comment Wednesday about the prosecutor's ongoing investigation and his decision not to seek charges against the child.
A spokeswoman for the Newport News School District said it had no additional comments about the investigation, and the district has previously said it couldn't share any information in the child's educational record, citing the police investigation.
Gwynn told The Associated Press last month that his office had received three binders of information from police in the case. His team is also reviewing police bodycam footage of officers who responded to the scene.
Legal experts had previously said the child is unlikely to face charges because of competency concerns, although his parents could be charged with reckless endangerment or child neglect.
Gwynn said that if there is a decision to charge someone in connection with the case, it would either be through a grand jury or in consultation with police.
While there is no timeline for when charges might be brought, Gwynn drew a distinction with a parallel incident in Norfolk, Virginia, last month in which charges were quickly filed against a mother whose 6-year-old brought a gun to an elementary school. In that case, no one was injured and police charged the mother with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and allowing a child access to a loaded firearm.
"In our case, the police decided to turn the file over to us to make a decision," Gwynn said. "And we have to make our decision based on our ability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a crime occurred."
The parents are the only one's responsible..
"The parents are responsible". If you had stated that I would agree. The parents need to be held responsible. They are the ones that are supposed to teach their kids the difference between right and wrong; and instill a sense of discipline in them.
Not the kid,
WTF? Think a 6 year old with a history of behavior issues isn't responsible for their actions? If they were responsible enough to take the gun and fire it; then they need to be held accountable for their actions. Chances are the kid is going to be taken away from their parents. I feel sorry for any foster parents that get stuck with him.
not the school
Diane Toscano, Zwerner's lawyer, said at a news conference in January that three teachers went to the school administration about the boy's behavior and that he was believed to have had a gun on campus. Toscano said the shooting was "entirely preventable" if the administration "had taken action when they had knowledge of imminent danger," adding, "But instead, they failed to act, and Abby was shot."
The school should have expelled the kid. If nothing else listened to their teachers and taken the gun away- then pressed charges against the kid/parents. Diane Toscano is right, this was "entirely preventable".
So many accessible guns, so few parental brains..
You don't have to get a license to have kids. Maybe it is time to force people to get licenses and pass some type of training before they can have them. Guns are inanimate objects. It takes someone to with a will to operate them.
Not the first and certainly won't be the last sadly...
So long as there are bad parents, kids with behavior issues, and a system that allows it to occur it will. Enforce the laws; and stop making excuses.
The kid has issues and needs court mandated treatment and should be put on probation till 18 but no 6 year old should have free access to a firearm no matter how well behaved or how much training they've had. 6 year olds are stupid, they have tempers and are not mature enough to control themselves. If every 6 year old had a gun there'd be a shooting in every school everyday.
I also think he needs to be removed from the home. The parents are not fit.
his parents could be charged with reckless endangerment or child neglect.
The parents should face charges.
The school officials who ignored the warnings should face a civil lawsuit.
This idiotic situation could have been avoided.
Yessss but rewind it back further...the kid brought the gun to school from his home...
The parents are 100% to blame and they should be held 100% responsible...
If these how do you mob say it.."dumb arse,," parents did the right thing in the first place it would never of happened..
The school should sue the arse off the parents for putting everyone's life in danger at the school their child attended.
The parents said the gun was safely secured, but a six year old child was able to get it and walk out of the house with it? The parents have missed their calling. They should be selling used cars.
Evening.. obviously it wasn't and you would think they would be embarrassed even trying to say that.... especially after the end result...
Next they will be claiming they are under mental stress due to the publicity and it's detrimental to their well-being and trying to sue someone....
Shona and friend Al J'r. , the problem here is the "troubled" child. 1. The child was determined to go beyond the bounds of what apparently his parents would have considered: To get; cock; point; and with intent-fire a gun at another human being?! 2. That human being-a Teacher/his teacher?!!
Something is seriously maladjusted in this child.
Furthermore, it will take doctors/psychologists to hep this child (and us adults) process how a child so young can perpetrate such intent to do grave bodily harm; to show such sociopathic behavior.
My heart is 'broken' over this too. This child is scarred and displaced (who can manage him who would want to?); the teacher is scarred. The school is scarred. Classmates and attendants are scarred. The city is scarred. The state is scarred. Lastly, the country is scarred too.
We all should to this day in our respective ages fondly remember our first grade teacher.
Where can this child ever go to get away from this first grade memory—repaired or not repaired mentally?
This a tragic tale, bar none.
As we can used to say in the military, the parents and the school "screwed the pooch" in a big way! The parents are now backpedaling like crazy to avoid responsibility for their blatant negligence. They and the school administrators must be held accountable.
Agreed. There seems to be a lot of blame to be shared here. The article states that three teachers went to the administration and in part stated there was belief that the kid had a gun on campus, but the administration didn't immediately take action? WTF not immediately go to determine if it's true or not?
Also the parents share a lot of the blame but there are still questions that deserve answers. The parents stated the gun was safely secured but doesn't go into exactly what that means. That needs to be answered I think before the parents are dragged in front of the firing squad.
There is a lot of blame to go around and this is something that this kid is going to have to carry around for the rest of his life. The kid was failed by his parents and his school from the get-go.
My understanding from another article, and I can't remember the source, was that the gun was kept on a high shelf in a closet, so they thought the child couldn't get to it.
If that's what they thought was secure then they deserve to have the book thrown at them.
Agreed. Every parent who has ever kept the cookies on top of the fridge can tell you that "high" does not equal "secure".
And they should have their rights to possess any firearm permanently revoked.
My wife has had a Colt 357 with a 6" barrel since before we met. I found a petite woman that picked a heavy, legendary revolver rather intriguing. When my daughter lived with us, we had it hidden in a bedroom closet with a trigger lock on it.
I don't think so. I never heard her complain about lacking one and I've always shared mine.
She tried it on for size multiple times before marriage. Guess that I was just lucky.
It's her revolver not mine.
Charge the parents.
Sue the school system.
This young woman is the victim of incompetence and negligence on the part of so many.
And that child should get treatment for his anger issues, in a residential facility. Send him home, and he might bring a gun to therapy and shoot his therapist.
I believe that in many of the gun violence cases the red flags were seen by the parents, and the parents have just covered for their kids, so they were enablers, and deserve punishment as much as their kids.
I'd say they deserve harsher punishment. We don't grant children the same autonomy as adults precisely because we recognize that they can't reasonably be expected to exercise good judgment consistently, even if their home and upbringing are good.
But we should expect it of adults. They've had plenty of time to figure out that they shouldn't have guns accessible to emotionally troubled children.
And that child should get treatment for his anger issues, in a residential facility.
I vote xtian school. maybe that will save him.
In Catholic school we were taught about the "age of reason". I dont remember exactly why but I think it had to do with children below the age of reason not being able to sin. The age of reason was 7 or 8 years old. I basically agree with what I was taught. A six year old has an incompletely formed ability to tell right from wrong. Cannot commit a crime.
Some states have minimum age requirements, Virginia does not. so technically this kid can be charged for his actions.
In New Hampshire and Maryland you have to be 13 to be charged with a crime.
From reports I have seen the child is emotionally disturbed. In other words, he is broken. Charging him would solve nothing. Charging his parents with possession of an accessible firearm in the vicinity of a mentally handicapped person could be considered. Although in Trump's first month in office he did away with firearm restrictions on mentally ill people so I am unsure how the courts would determine responsibility. As far as I know the Biden Administration has not acted on nor rescinded the Trump Administration's prior action.
I have seen reports that this child was a known major problem, my question is should he have been in regular school or in a special program?
I also think that knowing he had lots of problems the parents should have been extra careful about securing their guns.
Or be good/responsible parents and decide whether the possession of firearms is a necessity.
Special program would seem appropriate considering the child's past actions and history.
Are the child's problems a result of genetic/physical/psychological issues or reactions to home environment?
Same. This wasn't close to the first time this kid had been in trouble. The staff was scared of him.
If adults are afraid of a small child, that child is evidently violent enough that he shouldn't be in mainstream public schools.
I humbly add this much more to this discussion: Being afraid of a child with behavior problems is a far cry from concluding that the child is going to get 'strapped' and go shoot the teacher.
I have heard the 'one' that goes: "Send them to school and they eat the teacher." But, until this, I have never heard it verbalized or written: "Send them to school and they SHOOT the teacher!"
You do offer a valid consideration. This child evidently has little to no respect for authority figures.
Being afraid of a child with behavior problems is a far cry from concluding that the child is going to get 'strapped' and go shoot the teacher.
But in this case, that was WHY they were afraid of the child. They knew he was violent. Not just a run-of-the-mill bully. Not a bratty kid who tries the teacher's patience. A violent kid who had made his intentions to cause serious harm known.
It's all so strange in his case. I am thinking "Minority Report" by Philip K. Dick, and movie featuring Tom Cruise. This young man would be a candidate for "pre-crime" investigation and detaining.
A six year old so angry that he steals a gun, takes it off the premises, and shoots his teacher. WHO DOES THAT? —He did it!
Was this kid's first name Damien I wonder?
It wouldn't have been a "pre-crime" investigation. I believe he threatened to shoot her the day before he actually did. Threats of that nature are crimes.
Okay. Assuming you are correct, he should not have been allowed into the school the next day. An informed staff should have barred his entry and reported the situation to proper authorities, and especially a call to the family.
Who is online
The parents are the only one's responsible..
Not the kid, not the school or the man in the moon...
So many accessible guns, so few parental brains..
Not the first and certainly won't be the last sadly...