Newport News officials: 6-year-old shot elementary school teacher during class

Published: Jan. 9, 2023 at 3:56 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 9, 2023 at 6:56 PM EST
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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WWBT) - Authorities from Newport News said on Monday that a 6-year-old student shot his teacher on Friday while she was teaching.

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said the Richneck Elementary School student pulled the gun out, pointed it at Abby Zwerner and fired inside the classroom.

Zwerner was rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries but has improved and was listed in stable condition on Monday.

Chief Drew hailed Zwerner as a “hero” who saved lives by helping her students escape the classroom after the shot was fired.

“From the video surveillance, we have the hallway. You can see the students running out of that classroom. Across the hall, about 17 to 20 students running out of the classroom. Ms. Zwerner was the last person to leave that class,” said Chief Drew.

Authorities said the child was “combative” when restrained by a school employee following the shooting.

After the shooting, the child was taken into police custody. Officers were able to interview the child and his mother and found out the handgun came from the child’s home. Chief Drew also said his mother purchased the gun legally in York County.

Following conversations with officials, detectives got an emergency custody order for the child.

“The 6-year-old child was then transported to a local hospital, where he was evaluated,” said Chief Drew. “Community Service Board (CSB) determined that a temporary detention order would be obtained from a magistrate, and the child is receiving treatment from a medical facility.”

There’s been no word yet if charges will be filed as investigators continue to collect evidence and follow up with interviews.

“This has shaken us. This has shaken me, but Newport News is a strong community, and together, we’re going to work together to ensure that the wellbeing of our children remains a priority,” said Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones.

NBC12 Legal Analyst Steve Benjamin said under Virginia law, a child younger than seven is “conclusively presumed incapable of committing a crime.”

“So that means the child could not be prosecuted,” Benjamin said. “The child is conclusively presumed to be incapable of committing a crime.”

In addition, Benjamin also said there would be other questions regarding this case to consider.

“Even if you could prosecute or sought to prosecute a 6-year-old, there would be questions of his ability to form a criminal intent and also questions concerning competency, whether a 6-year-old can ever be competent to understand the legal process, a process that is often misunderstood even by adults or able to effectively assist his attorney in his representation,” Benjamin told NBC12.

Benjamin also said if someone were to be tried as an adult in Virginia, they would have to be 14 or older. Benjamin also said other options officials could consider, including the CHINS petition.

“CHINS stands for a Child In Need of Services,” Benjamin said. “A petition can be made to that juvenile court, and it gives the court jurisdiction over that child and over their parents. This means a juvenile court can order whatever is necessary. Rehabilitation, counseling. treatment.”

Benjamin also said the child could be admitted to a mental health facility in some cases.

“A child under 14 can also, in some circumstances, be admitted to a mental health facility for mental health treatment if there is a sign of mental illness,” he said. “Now, we don’t know that that is the case here, but that is one of the options that’s available for children. For such an admission, it would require that the parents apply for admission and consent to the admission.”

A candlelight vigil for Zwerner is planned for Monday at 6:30 p.m.