Prosecutor won't charge 6-year-old accused of shooting teacher

ByMeredith Deliso ABCNews logo
Thursday, March 9, 2023

A local prosecutor said Wednesday that he won't charge the 6-year-old boy accused of shooting a teacher at his Virginia elementary school.

"We don't believe the law supports charging a 6-year-old with a criminal offense as serious as this one," Newport News Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn told ABC Hampton, Virginia, affiliate WVEC in a phone call.

Gwynn said they would have to show that "any defendant, including a 6-year-old," is competent to stand trial and understands the legal system enough to help with their defense.

"I think it's problematical to assume that a 6-year-old understands the criminal justice system enough to be competent to stand trial," Gwynn told the station.

Gwynn added that once his office has reviewed the facts of the case, they will determine if anyone else should be criminally charged in connection with the shooting.

The incident occurred at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News on Jan. 6. The 6-year-old, who has not been named publicly, allegedly brought a handgun from his home to school in his backpack and shot and wounded a teacher in a first-grade classroom in what police described as an "intentional" act.

The teacher, Abigail Zwerner, sustained a gunshot wound to the chest. A bullet remains lodged in her body, according to her lawyer.

About 16 to 20 students were in the room at the time of the shooting and none of them were physically injured, officials said. After Zwerner was shot, she ushered all of her students out of the classroom, according to police.

Police said the boy's mother legally purchased the 9 mm Taurus pistol.

The 6-year-old's family released a statement through a spokesperson in the wake of the incident, saying, "Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children."

"We have been cooperating with local and federal law enforcement to understand how this could have happened," the family said.

Their son "suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day," the family said. "The week of the shooting was the first week when we were not in class with him. We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives."

Zwerner claimed the student had a history of violent behavior at the school and accused the school's assistant principal of failure to act despite being told repeatedly that the student had a gun at school, her lawyer alleged in a letter notifying the district of the intent to file a lawsuit last month.

The student had been suspended the day before the shooting because he "slammed Ms. Zwerner's phone breaking it" and had cursed at the guidance counselors," according to the letter.

The student had allegedly been removed from the school a year prior after he "choked his teacher until she couldn't breathe," according to the letter.

"This school year, the shooter was put on a modified schedule in the fall of 2022 after the school year had started because he constantly cursed at the staff and teachers and then one day took off his belt on the playground and chased kids trying to whip them," according to the letter.

The school's assistant principal, Ebony Parker, resigned from her position on Jan. 25, according to a school spokesperson.

The Newport News School Board last month voted 5-1 to relieve its superintendent, George Parker III, "without cause," effective Feb. 1, in the wake of the shooting.

ABC News' Nadine El-Bawab and Beatrice Peterson contributed to this report.

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