Unfortunately, school shootings aren’t anything new in the United States. But what happened at an elementary school in Virginia was extra tragic and unsettling. A school shooting occurred, and the shooter was only six years old.
What happens when a young child uses a gun to shoot their teacher? And, who is responsible for such a terrible incident?
What Happened in the First-Grade Classroom?
With school back in session after the holidays, 25-year-old Abigail Zwerner was leading her classroom of first graders at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia. Close to twenty students were in her classroom.
Zwerner was interrupted while leading her lesson when a six-year-old boy took a gun out of his backpack and pointed it at her. The boy fired one shot and hit Zwerner twice.
As Zwerner held up her hands, the bullet went through her hand and into her chest.
What Happened After the Shooting?
After being shot, Zwerner quickly moved her students into a classroom across the hall.
According to police reports, another school employee entered the room and attempted to restrain the boy who fired the gun. The boy was being combative and struck the employee. When police arrived, the school employee was physically restraining the young child.
The teacher was taken to the hospital. Zwerner was initially listed in critical condition and is now expected to recover from her injuries.
The six-year-old boy was taken into police custody. He was taken to a hospital for an evaluation and then was held under a temporary detention order.
Now, what will happen to the six-year-old shooter?
Will the Six-Year-Old Face Consequences?
The shooting took place in Virginia and is bound by Virginia law. According to reporting by CNN, Virginia doesn’t have a statutory age limit that would prevent the boy from being charged, but other legal rules may prevent the state from prosecuting the child.
According to the “infancy defense,” very young children are said to be unable to be held liable for a crime. The defense is under the assumption that children cannot have criminal intent in the way that adults can.
Another reason the child may not face charges is that a defendant must be found competent to stand trial in Virginia. The defendant must be able to understand the legal proceedings and assist lawyers in their defense. A six-year-old would be unable to meet this criteria.
It would also be difficult to hold the child in any type of juvenile detention center. In Virginia, children must be 11 to be held in custody at a state facility.
At this time, it seems unlikely that the child will face any legal consequences, although his case could result in required child residential treatment or wraparound support services.
Will the Parents Face Consequences?
According to reporting, the boy lived with his mother who legally purchased the firearm used in the shooting. The question is whether or not the mother could be liable for her child taking the gun and using it to shoot someone.
It isn’t unprecedented for a parent to face consequences after a child finds a gun in the house and uses it to harm others. Our blog has covered two such stories.
A mother of a two-year-old faced manslaughter charges when her daughter took an unsecured gun and used it to shoot and kill her father. While this case was believed to be a terrible accident, the mother was charged for her child’s actions.
In another case, the parents of 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley faced four counts of involuntary manslaughter after their son took a gun they purchased for him and used it to kill four students at his school.
In those cases, the parents were liable because they did not store the gun safely away from their children. In the case of the six-year-old shooter, the mother could face charges if it’s found that she had the gun in an unsecured location, as reported by FOX News.
According to Virginia Law 18.2-56.2, “any person to recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any child under the age of fourteen,” is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The punishment for a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia is up to twelve months in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500.
Whether or not someone will be charged with a crime in the first-grade classroom shooting will depend on Virginia state prosecutors.
If you or someone you know is facing potential legal charges, talk to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to weigh your options and know what to expect. Talk to TJ Grimaldi today. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023.
Standing With Victims of Gun Violence
TJ Grimaldi stands with the victims of gun violence. As the Executive Director and Board Member of The Oulson Family Foundation, TJ works to help kids get what they need in the wake of being impacted by gun violence. The Oulson Family Foundation was created to honor the life and legacy of Chad Oulson, whose life ended in a senseless act of gun violence.
Learn more about The Oulson Family Foundation and see how you can also help victims of gun violence.