Shooting of teacher by six-year-old a red flag for US, says mayor Virginia

The shooting of a teacher in the city of Newport News in Virginia by a six-year-old student should be a red flag for the US, the city’s mayor has said, as the teacher’s condition showed signs of improvement.

The mayor, Phillip Jones, said the condition of the teacher, identified by local media as Abby Zwerner, was “trending in a positive direction” in the hospital.

The student, a boy, was taken into police custody after shooting and wounding the teacher with a handgun in a first-grade classroom on Friday at Richneck elementary school. The Newport News police chief, Steve Drew, said the shooting was not accidental and was part of an altercation. No students were injured.

Police on Saturday declined to describe what led to the altercation or any other details about what happened in the classroom, citing the ongoing investigation. Jones also declined to reveal details of the shooting, or say how the boy got access to the gun or who owns the weapon.

The teacher was identified by local media as Abby Zwerner. Photograph: Abby Zwerner

“This is a red flag for the country,” Jones said. “I do think that after this event, there is going to be a nationwide discussion on how these sorts of things can be prevented.”

George Parker, the superintendent of the Newport News public school district, said the shooting showed how “we need to educate our children and we need to keep them safe”.

He added: “We need the community’s support, continued support, to make sure that guns are not available to youth and I’m sounding like a broken record today, because I continue to reiterate that: that we need to keep the guns out of the hands of our young people.

“I cannot control access to weapons. My teachers cannot control access to weapons… Our students got a lesson in gun violence and what guns can do to disrupt not only an educational environment, but also a family, a community.”

Jones would not say where the boy was being held. “We are ensuring he has all the services that he currently needs right now,” he said.

Experts who study gun violence said the shooting represented an extremely rare occurrence of a young child bringing a gun into school and wounding a teacher.

“It’s very rare and it’s not something the legal system is really designed or positioned to deal with,” said the researcher David Riedman, the founder of a database that tracks US school shootings, dating back to 1970.

He said he was only aware of three other shootings caused by six-year-old students in the time period he had studied. Those include the fatal shooting of a fellow student in 2000 in Michigan and shootings that injured other students in 2011 in Texas and 2021 in Mississippi.

Riedman said he only knew of one other instance of a student younger than that causing gunfire at a school, in which a five-year-old student brought a gun to a Tennessee school in 2013 and accidentally discharged it. No one was injured in that case.

Daniel W. Webster, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies gun violence, agreed that a six-year-old shooting a teacher at school was extremely unusual. But he said his research showed that instances of young children accessing loaded guns and shooting themselves or others unintentionally in homes or other settings were rising.

“A six-year-old gaining access to a loaded gun and shooting him or herself or someone else, sadly, is not that rare,” he said in an email to the Associated Press.

Investigators were trying to figure out where he obtained the handgun.

Newport News is a city of about 185,000 people in southeastern Virginia. It is known for its shipyard, which builds the nation’s aircraft carriers and other US Navy vessels.

Richneck has about 550 students who are in kindergarten through fifth grade, according to the Virginia Department of Education’s website. Jones said there would be no classes at the school on Monday and Tuesday.

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