Two weeks after a Virginia 6-year-old shot and injured his first-grade teacherhis family and authorities have released new details about the case, including where the gun he used was stored.
the shooting has left the Newport News, Virginia, community shaken and questioning the safety of students and staff in schools.
Police have said the child, who has not been identified, brought a loaded 9mm handgun to Richneck Elementary School in his backpack. He took the gun out without warning and shot once at 25-year-old Abigail Zwerner, who was teaching him first-grade class at the time, police said.
The gun used to shoot the teacher was ‘secured,’ the family said
In their first public statement since the Jan. 6 shooting, family members of the child said they have “always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children.”
The family, remaining anonymous, said the gun was “secured” in a statement released by attorney James Ellenson.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Ellenson said the gun had a trigger lock that should have kept it from firing and was stored on a top shelf of a closet in the mother’s bedroom. He said the family doesn’t know how the child got hold of it.
Newport News police previously said the gun was legally purchased by the boy’s mother in York County, and that the child took it from his home.
it is a misdemeanor in Virginia to leave a loaded gun accessible to a child under the age of 14.
No charges have been filed
Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said this week that no charges have been filed against the boy’s parents, though the investigation is ongoing.
Drew said he has faith that prosecutors “will make the right decision based on the evidence they have in front of them.”
The commonwealth’s attorney who prosecutes cases in Newport News declined to comment when asked by USA TODAY about potential charges.
Ellenson, the family’s attorney, told USA TODAY the juvenile court system has opted to treat the boy as a “child in need of services,” a mechanism used to provide counseling and other related services to kids in crisis.
Andrew Block, a law professor at the University of Virginia and the former director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, previously told USA TODAY it was more likely authorities would focus on providing needed services to the child in the interest of rehabilitation rather than charging him with a crime.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A CHILD COMMITS A CRIME: What we know about the 6-year-old who shot a teacher
Child being treated for mental health concerns
The boy has been in a hospital receiving mental health services since the incident, Ellenson said Thursday. Drew said the child was initially taken into police custody and brought to the police station, and at one point went before a judge. Ellenson said there would be periodic reviews by the juvenile court in this case.
According to the family’s statement, the 6-year-old has an “acute disability” and was receiving accommodations and a care plan through school that included his parents attending school with him and walking him to class each day.
“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,” said the family.
‘Hero’ teacher released from hospital
Zwerner was struck by the bullet through his hand and chest. The police initially said her injuries were life-threatening.
“She is improving,” Drew said Wednesday, adding that she has been released from the hospital but has had follow-up at the hospital.
The first-grade teacher made sure the other students were safe while another staff member physically restrained the child after hearing the gunshot, police said, calling Zwerner a “hero” who may have saved lives. Then, she sought medical attention for herself.
No students or other staff were injured, according to authorities.
‘NOT AN ACCIDENTAL SHOOTING’: Virginia teacher injured after being shot in classroom by 6-year-old student, officials say
“Our heart goes out to our son’s teacher and we pray for her healing in the aftermath of such an unimaginable tragedy as she selflessly served our son and the children in the school,” the family’s statement reads.
“We continue to pray for his teacher’s full recovery, and for his loved ones who are undoubtedly upset and concerned,” the family said. “At the same time, we love our son and are asking that you please include him and our family in your prayers.”
Community demands answers from leaders
Parents and other community members have questioned why more wasn’t done that could have prevented the shooting.
Superintendent George Parker told parents during an online meeting that administrators at the school were alerted the child might have a weapon the day of the shooting. His backpack was searched but nothing was found. Drew said the child removed the gun from his backpack at some point and had it on his person.
Newport News schools have endured two other shootings in a little over a year, with both incidents involving teenagers who shot other students at high schools.
Zwerner’s shooting was “completely preventable — if the red flags had been taken seriously and proper procedures were clearly communicated and followed,” Amber Thomas, a former school psychologist in Newport News, told the school board this week.
In a three-hour school board meeting on Tuesday, other school district staff members said teachers’ concerns about student behavior are routinely ignored.
“If Abigail had been respected, she wouldn’t be in the hospital right now,” high school librarian Nicole Cooke said.
The school district has announced that metal detectors would begin to be installed in schools throughout the district.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 6-year-old shot teacher in Newport News, Virginia 2 weeks ago: Updates
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