Teacher shot by six-year-old pupil is ‘showing signs of improvement’

Teacher Abby Zwerner, who was shot by a six-year-old pupil in the US, is ‘showing signs of improvement’.

Ms Zwerner, in her 30s, was left critically injured after being shot in class by the boy during an altercation on Friday – and it was not accidental, according to police.

Phillip Jones, the mayor of the city of Newport News in Virginia, where the incident happened, described it as a “red flag for the country”.

He said the condition of the teacher at Richneck Elementary School is “trending in a positive direction” as she remains in hospital.

Ms Zwerner graduated from Virginia’s James Madison University in 2020. A statement from its president said they were “deeply saddened by the tragic incident,” describing it as “an incredibly difficult time”.

Police initially said the teacher’s injures were “life-threatening” but said a senior officer had met her on Saturday and “she has improved and is currently listed in stable condition”.

Chief Steve Drew said the shooting did not appear to be an accident and that it was isolated to the single victim. He said the student and teacher had known each other in a classroom setting.

“We did not have a situation where someone was going around the school shooting,” Drew told reporters.

He said the boy had a handgun in the classroom, and investigators were trying to work out where he got it.

Students and police gather outside of Richneck Elementary School after a shooting, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023 in Newport News, Va. A shooting at a Virginia elementary school sent a teacher to the hospital and ended with individual... in custody Friday, police and school officials in the city of Newport News said...(Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
Students and police gather outside the school after the shooting

Mr Jones said: “I do think that after this event, there is going to be a nationwide discussion on how these sorts of things can be prevented.”

George Parker III, Newport News public schools superintendent, said: “I’m in awe, and I’m in shock, and I’m disheartened.”

Boy is too young to face trial

School officials have said there will be no classes at Richneck on Monday.

Virginia law does not allow six-year-olds to be tried as adults.

In addition, a six-year-old is too young to be committed to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice if found guilty.

A juvenile judge would have authority, though, to revoke a parent’s custody and place a child under the purview of the Department of Social Services.

Mr Jones would not say where the boy is being held, but added: “We are ensuring he has all the services that he currently needs right now.”

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Gun violence in America

One angry British mother, living in the area, spoke to reporters outside the school, and said it was time for change.

“Let’s do something. Let’s change it.

“You’ve got a beautiful country, you have beautiful people, but what’s the problem? Guns!” she said.

“I am only here because my husband is in the military, otherwise I would not have come to this country.”

Young children accessing guns ‘is rising’

Professor Daniel Webster, who studies gun violence at Johns Hopkins University, said a six-year-old shooting a teacher at school was extremely unusual.

But he said his research shows that instances of young children accessing loaded guns and shooting themselves or others unintentionally in homes or other settings are rising.

“A six-year-old gaining access to a loaded gun and shooting him/herself or someone else, sadly, is not so rare,” he said.

Researcher David Riedman, who founded a database that tracks US school shootings dating back to 1970, said it was “not something the legal system is really designed or positioned to deal with”.

He said he was only aware of three other shootings caused by six-year-old pupils in the time period he has studied; a fatal shooting of a fellow pupil in 2000 in Michigan and shootings that injured other students in 2011 in Texas and 2021 in Mississippi.

Mr Riedman said he only knows of one other instance of a student younger than that causing gunfire at a school, in which a five-year-old brought a gun to a Tennessee school in 2013 and accidentally discharged it.

No one was injured in that case.

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