Charges against 6-year-old who shot teacher would be ‘problematic’
The chief prosecutor handling the case of the 6-year-old child who brought a gun into the school and shot and killed his teacher in Newport News, Virginia, told news outlets on Wednesday that the law does not propose trying the child for a felony to accuse .
Review of the case is ongoing, but it seems likely the child will not be charged based on prosecutors
“We do not believe the law supports charging a 6-year-old with an offense as serious as this,” Howard Gwynn, Commonwealth Attorney for Newport News, told 13News Now, an ABC News affiliate.
The first-grader took his mother’s gun to school and on January 6 shot 25-year-old Abigail Zwerner, seriously injuring her. He was taken into custody and given psychiatric treatment at a hospital, according to his family’s lawyer.
Gwynn told NBC News on Wednesday that “the prospect of a 6-year-old being able to stand trial is problematic.”
Gwynn said a decision on whether to charge someone else, like the boy’s parents, has not yet been made.
The gun was legally purchased from the boy’s mother, police said. An attorney for the child’s family, James Ellenson, said the gun was kept on the top shelf of a cupboard with a trigger lock and the family don’t know how he got it.
In Virginia, it is a misdemeanor to allow a child under the age of 14 to access a loaded gun.
Experts believe it is highly unlikely that the 6-year-old will be prosecuted. Some states do not allow children under certain ages to be charged with exceptions for certain types of violent crimes. Virginia has no such minimum age, but questions have been raised about the child’s competence to assist in his defense and to understand the consequences of his actions.
Andrew Block, a law professor at the University of Virginia and former director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, told USA TODAY in January that charging the child would be impractical and that he is not aware of any successful prosecution of such a young child in the state.
“It’s also the question of whether it’s the best way to handle it,” said Block the day after filming.
Ellenson, the boy’s family attorney, previously told USA TODAY the juvenile court system chose to treat the boy as a “needy child,” a mechanism used to provide counseling and other related services to children in crisis . The family said in a statement through Ellenson that he has an “acute disability.”
ERROR IN THE SYSTEM:A six-year-old Virginia boy who shot his teacher exposes how schools treat students with disabilities
Ellenson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has received the investigative report from the Newport News Police Department and will review the evidence to determine whether adults should be charged, Travis White, the Commonwealth’s assistant attorney general, told USA TODAY in February.
“We will follow the facts and the law wherever they lead,” White said.
Gwynn told NBC the case differed from a similar case not far away in Norfolk, Virginia in February. Another 6-year-old brought a gun to class, police there said, although no one was injured. Norfolk Police were quick to charge this child’s mother with allowing a minor access to a firearm and contributing to a minor’s crime.
In the Norfolk case, Gwynn said the police decided to charge her.
“In our case, the police decided to give us the file so we could make a decision,” Gwynn said. “And we must make our decision based on our ability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime took place.”
Lawyers for Zwerner, the teacher who was shot at Richneck Elementary School, have announced their intention to file a lawsuit against Newport News Public Schools on her behalf.
Diane Toscano, Zwerner’s attorney, claimed that on the day of the shooting, school officials were repeatedly warned that the child might have been carrying a gun. According to Zwerner’s attorney, the student had a history of behavior problems, including violence, and Zwerner had raised concerns with administrators.
SCHOOL WARNED AGAINST GUN:The school administration “couldn’t bother” to heed warnings, the attorney says.
Zwerner’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.