A six-year-old boy who shot his teacher in January will not face criminal charges, a prosecutor in Newport News, Virginia, said on Wednesday night.
On 6 January, the first-grader shot Abigail Zwerner while she was teaching class at Richneck elementary school, leaving her seriously injured.
According to a lawsuit on Zwerner’s behalf against the Newport News school district, school officials had given the child a one-day suspension for breaking the teacher’s cellphone, and teachers alerted administrators about the child’s behavior, noting they believed he had a gun.
The district superintendent was replaced “without cause” and the school assistant principal resigned.
The Newport News commonwealth’s attorney, Howard Gwynn, has yet to decide whether adults including the child’s parents, who owned the gun, will be held liable for the child’s actions.
Speaking to an NBC affiliate on Wednesday, he questioned whether there were legal grounds to charge the child, noting that the “prospect that a six-year-old can stand trial is problematic”.
“We don’t believe the law supports charging a six-year-old with a criminal offense as serious as this one,” Gwynn told 13NewsNow.
Police say the child’s mother legally purchased the gun. James Ellenson, an attorney for the child’s family, has said the gun was “secured” with a trigger lock on the top shelf of a closet, adding that the parents did not know how the child accessed the gun. The child was sent for mental health treatment.
The family have said the child has an acute disability, adding that they were “always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children”. Under Virginia law, the parents could be charged with a misdemeanor over access to the gun.
The city’s police chief, Steve Drew, said last month prosecutors were interviewing people surrounding the situation. Of 16 to 20 students in the classroom, none were injured. Zwerner escorted them out as a school employee restrained the child.
Zwerner’s attorney, Diane Toscano, has said the shooting was “entirely preventable”, had administrators taken action when “they had knowledge of imminent danger”.
“Instead, they failed to act and Abby was shot,” Toscano said.
Gwynn said: “Our objective is not just to do something as quickly as possible. 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.”
So far this year there have been seven shootings at US schools, leaving three people injured, according to the Washington Post. Last year, there were 46 school shootings, the most since 1999.
Shootings by a child on campus remain extremely rare. David Riedman, the founder of the K-12 School Shooting Database, told NBC News there had been just 17 shootings by a child under 10 years old since 1970.
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