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Prosecution Unlikely For VA Boy, 6, Who Shot His Teacher

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

A Virginia teacher was injured when she was shot by a 6-year-old student in Newport News. Authorities are trying to understand how a child so young could be involved in a school shooting, the Associated Press reports. Police Chief Steve Drew met with the teacher, Abigail Zwerner, 25, and her family Saturday. She is in stable condition. The boy shot and wounded the teacher with a handgun in a first-grade classroom on Friday at Richneck Elementary School. Drew said the shooting was not accidental and was part of an altercation. No students were injured. Mayor Phillip Jones said, "This is a red flag for the country. I do think that after this event, there is going to be a nationwide discussion on how these sorts of things can be prevented." Virginia law does not allow 6-year-olds to be tried as adults. A 6-year-old is too young to be committed to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice if found guilty. A juvenile judge would have authority to revoke a parent’s custody and place a child under the purview of the Department of Social Services.

“I think it would be incredibly hard to prosecute a 6-year-old, no matter how serious a crime they’ve committed,” University of Virginia law Prof. Andrew Block told the Newport News Daily Press. “It would be incredibly difficult and not likely to lead to a satisfactory or helpful outcome for anybody involved.” One hurdle for such a prosecution is the infancy defense, which operates under the idea that young children are incapable of forming criminal intent, and therefore aren’t legally capable of committing a crime, Block said. Another obstacle is the belief that children that young are not competent to stand trial. In order to be competent, the accused must be able to understand the legal process they face, and be able to assist in their defense. Experts called the shooting an extremely rare occurrence. “It ’s very rare and it’s not something the legal system is really designed or positioned to deal with,” said researcher David Riedman, founder of a database that tracks school shootings since 1970 He was aware of three other shootings by 6-year-old students. Those include the fatal shooting of a student in 2000 in Michigan and shootings that injured other students in 2011 in Texas and 2021 in Mississippi. Prof. Daniel Webster of Johns Hopkins University, who studies gun violence, said instances of young children accessing loaded guns and shooting themselves or others unintentionally are rising.


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