A six-year-old schoolboy who shot his teacher from point-blank range in class will not be criminally charged.
The city prosecutor in Newport News, Virginia said Wednesday he will not be seeking charges against the child because ‘the prospect that a 6-year-old can stand trial is problematic’.
It comes after the boy, who has not been named, opened fire on his first-grade elementary school teacher, Abby Zwerner, on January 6 at Richneck Elementary School. She is still recovering at home from her injuries.
The prosecutor says he is yet to decide whether any adults associated with the case will be held criminally responsible. Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to a child under 14, a misdemeanor crime punishable with a maximum one-year prison sentence and a $2,500 fine.
‘The general consensus is that a 6-year-old cannot form the requisite criminal intent to be guilty of an aggravated assault,’ Newport News Commonwealth Attorney Howard Gwynn said Wednesday in an interview with ABC Norfolk.
Teacher Abby Zwerner was shot at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News on January 6
In a separate interview with NBC News, Gwynn said that his office’s ‘objective is not just to do something as quickly as possible.’ The attorney added that he did not believe the child could understand the legal system.
The six-year-old targeted his teacher after he stole his mother’s gun from their home, before putting it in his backpack and taking it to Richneck Elementary School.
He opened fire at his teacher from point blank range after she had just finished reading a story to her first-grade class.
As the class were readying to head to an art lesson, a parent of one of the children in the class revealed that the youngster then pulled out the handgun, leading Zwerner to quickly try and confiscate it.
Her intervention led him to pull the trigger, with the bullet passing through her hand and into her chest.
Police confirmed at the time that the attack was intentional, not accidental.
Despite being hit with the bullet, authorities said Zwerner made sure all the children in her class were safe and out of the room before she attempted to find help.
Police revealed that her first questions when she was visited in hospital was ‘do you know how my students are?’
The child shot his teacher in Virginia after he stole his mother’s gun from their home before putting it in his backpack and taking it to Richneck Elementary School, pictured
The announcement that the child will not be charged comes after Andrew Block, associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, previously predicted the child would walk free.
‘As a practical matter, it would be next to impossible to prosecute a six-year-old, no matter how serious,’ he said.
Block noted that the ‘infancy defense,’ means that people younger than seven do not have the mental ability to form the intent to commit a crime.
‘The bigger barrier, presuming the prosecution could overcome that, is all defendants have to be competent to stand trial,’ he said.
‘That means you have to understand the nature of legal proceedings against you and assist in your own defense. There’s no way a six-year-old would meet that criteria.
‘The juvenile justice system would not be equipped to handle such a young kid.’
The investigation into the child ended on February 21. At the time, Chief Steve Drew spoke about the case during a Facebook live chat, although he offered few details.
Following the shooting, the family of the unidentified 6-year-old boy released a statement insisting that the weapon was ‘secured’ in the home.
They added that they have ‘always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children’.
Zwerner’s lawyer Diane Toscano, pictured, told a news conference in January that multiple teachers had alerted school administrators to the boy’s troubling behavior prior to the shooting
The 25-year-old first-grade teacher survived the attack. She was shot at point-blank range, and the bullet went through her hand and into her chest
Drew said his department’s investigation was turned over Tuesday morning to the local prosecutor, known as the Commonwealth’s Attorney, who will determine if any charges will be filed.
‘I totally understand people would like to have a case open and shut — that’s just not what we have here,’ Drew said.
Drew described a complicated investigation that involved coordinating interviews with first-graders, which required permission from their parents as well as the expertise of a child psychologist.
Detectives also had to interview teachers and follow up on various leads as new information came to light.
Gwynn told The Associated Press at the time that the city’s detectives handed over three binders of information to his office.
Those files do not include the body camera footage of dozens of police officers who responded to the shooting. That video will also be reviewed.
‘It’s a lot of information and we’re going to carefully review it as we do in every case,’ Gwynn said.
The six-year-old ‘combative’ boy was physically detained by another school employee following the terrifying shooting – who he then hit, police said.
He initially was detained in a medical facility, where professionals could psychologically evaluate him amid accusations of a history of disturbing behavior.
According to Diane Toscano, a lawyer for Zwerner, the young shooter had a history of troubling interactions with teachers and other students.
He previously broke Zwerner’s cellphone, according to a notice of intent to sue, before returning the next day with the gun he would use to shoot his teacher.
In February, Toscano filed a legal notices that said the shooter would constantly cursed at staff and teachers, tried to whip students with his belt and once choked another teacher ‘until she couldn’t breathe.’
‘It is a miracle that more people were not harmed, Toscano wrote in her notice. ‘The shooter spent his entire recess with a gun in his pocket, a gun that was loaded and ready to fire … while lots of first-grade students played.’
The choking incident described in the notice was confirmed by the teacher. She said that in 2021, the boy came up behind her as she sat in a chair in the front of the class, locked his forearms in front of her neck and pulled back and down, hard. She said a teaching assistant pulled the boy off her.
The teacher requested anonymity because she fears potential retaliation from the school district. She said she reported the incident to school administrators, but did not receive the kind of supportive response she had hoped for from them.
‘I didn’t feel safe the rest of the year because I knew if they didn’t protect me when he choked me and I couldn’t breathe, then they wouldn’t protect me, my kids or my colleagues if he did something not as harmful,’ she told The Associated Press.
The boy was later moved into another class in another school.
A detailed timeline describes how Zwerner, three other teachers and a guidance counselor were involved in airing concerns about the child possibly having a gun.
‘If Assistant Principal (Ebony) Parker had acted on the information she was provided, then the shooting of Ms. Zwerner would not have happened,’ the notice stated.
Zwerner went to former Assistant Principal Parker’s office at about 11:15 a.m. ‘to advise her that the shooter seemed more ‘off’ than usual and was in a violent mood.’ It also says the boy had threatened to beat up a kindergarten student and ‘angrily stared down’ the school security officer in the lunch room.
Toscano added during a news conference in January that multiple teachers had alerted school administrators to the boy’s troubling behavior, including a belief that he had already brought a gun onto the school grounds.
A spokeswoman for the Newport News School District said it had no further comments to offer following the announcement.
The district has previously insisted it can’t share information regarding the child or his education history while the investigation is ongoing.
Children at Richneck Elementary School held a candlelight vigil for the beloved teacher following the shooting
The potential lawsuit following the shooting was described as ‘entirely preventable’ by Toscano.
She argued during the press conference that the school administration should ‘have taken action when they had knowledge of imminent danger.’
‘But instead, they failed to act, and Abby was shot,’ she added.
It is unclear how the child was able to take his mother’s gun. However, a grandparent of a student at the school claimed that the week prior to the attack, one child brought in ‘shiny gold bullets’ and told his class and teacher he was planning on bringing in a gun.
It has not been confirmed whether the student described by the grandparent is the same one who shot Zwerner.
The families of two students at the school filed notices in February of potential legal action against the school system over trauma they say the shooting inflicted on their children.
The parents of a first-grader said their daughter was in the classroom when the shooting occurred and ‘suffered emotional harm as a result.’
The parents also alleged that school officials failed to protect their daughter throughout the school year from bullying, harassment and assault.
A letter from the other child’s family cites “injuries sustained during a school shooting on January 6, 2023.” Their attorney did not elaborate further, although authorities have said that no children were physically harmed.
One of the legal notices was filed by ‘Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Nieves Jr.,’ and asks the school system to preserve potential evidence, including emails regarding any student who allegedly bullied, harassed or assaulted their daughter.
The parents of the other student were not named in their attorney’s letter, although the notice makes a similar request for the school system to preserve evidence.