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


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

‘We don’t believe the law allows a 6-year-old to be charged with a criminal offense as serious as this,’ Newport News Commonwealth attorney Howard Gwynn told ABC Hampton, Va. affiliated with the WVEC during a phone call.

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

“I think it’s problematic to assume that a 6-year-old child understands the criminal justice system well enough to be competent to stand trial,” Gwynn told the station.

Gwynn added that once his office reviews the facts of the case, it will determine whether anyone else should be criminally charged in connection with the shooting.

PHOTO: A Newport News police officer directs traffic at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va. January 30, 2023.

A Newport News police officer directs traffic at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., Jan. 30, 2023.

John C. Clark/AP, FILE

The incident happened at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News on January 6. The 6-year-old, who has not been publicly named, allegedly brought a handgun from home to school in his backpack and shot and injured a teacher during a first-class in that which police described as an “intentional” act.

The teacher, Abigail Zwerner, was shot in the chest. A bullet remains lodged in his body, according to his lawyer.

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

Police say the boy’s mother legally purchased the Taurus 9mm pistol.

The 6-year-old’s family released a statement through a spokesperson following the incident, saying: “Our family has always been committed to responsible firearms ownership. and to keep firearms out of the reach of children”.

“We have been cooperating with local and federal law enforcement to figure out how this could have happened,” the family said.

Their son “has an acute disability and was under a care plan at school which included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day,” the family said. “The week of filming was the first week we weren’t in class with him. We will regret our absence that day for the rest of our lives.”

Zwerner claimed the student had a history of violent behavior at school and accused the school’s vice principal of failing to act despite being repeatedly told the student had a firearm at school, his attorney alleged in a letter notifying the district of the intent to file a lawsuit last month.

PHOTO: Newport News residents hold a candlelight vigil in honor of Richneck Elementary School freshman teacher Abby Zwerner at the School Administration Building in Newport News, Va., Monday, Jan. 9, 2023 .

Residents of Newport News hold a candlelight vigil in honor of Richneck Elementary School freshman teacher Abby Zwerner at the school administration building in Newport News, Va., Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.

John C. Clark/AP, FILE

The student had been suspended the day before the shooting because he had “smashed Ms. Zwerner’s phone by breaking it” and insulted the guidance counselors”, according to the letter.

The student was reportedly expelled from school a year earlier after “choking her 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 start of the school year because he kept swearing at staff and teachers and then one day took his belt on the playground and chased the kids who were trying to whip them,” according to the letter.

The school’s vice principal, Ebony Parker, resigned from her post on January 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, following the shooting.

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

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.