6-year-old boy who allegedly shot teacher will not face charges
Mar 9, 2023, 6:00 AM | Updated: 12:34 pm
(CNN) — The 6-year-old boy who allegedly shot his elementary school teacher earlier this year will not be criminally charged, Newport News, Virginia, Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn told CNN affiliate WTKR.
The student allegedly shot and wounded Richneck Elementary School teacher Abigail Zwerner on January 6, leaving her critically injured from a bullet that struck her chest. She was released from the hospital more than a week after the shooting.
“After researching this issue thoroughly, we do not believe the law supports charging and convicting a 6-year-old with aggravated assault,” Gwynn told WTKR Wednesday.
“I can say the prosecutorial efforts are focused on determining what the facts are, applying those facts to the law, and determining whether we can charge anyone with a crime that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Gwynn added.
The prosecutor’s decision was first reported by NBC News.
CNN has reached out to Gwynn and the attorney for the student’s parents, but has not immediately received a response.
When reached by CNN, Toscano Law Group, which represents Zwerner, declined to comment.
And in the weeks that followed, school and district leaders faced intense criticism over their handling of the incident and potential red flags that preceded the violence, with at least two officials leaving their posts.
Police investigated for more than a month
Newport News Police said late last month they had completed their investigation into the shooting and presented it to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office.
“We had a lot of witnesses, a lot of students, a lot of children to interview and that took a long process,” police chief Steve Drew said in a February 21 Facebook live briefing. “It’s not something we wanted to rush through.”
Gwynn told CNN in February his office had received “three binders” of investigative material from police and would also be reviewing hours’ worth of police body camera footage.
Similar to his comments to the affiliate this week, Gwynn told CNN on February 24 his office was reviewing the facts and added, “Any person we can charge and convict beyond a reasonable doubt, we will charge.”
In a January interview with CNN, the police chief said there was “certainly a possibility” the 6-year-old boy’s mother could face charges connected to the January shooting.
What we know about the boy
Authorities have not shared many details about the child accused of firing at his teacher.
In a statement released roughly two weeks after the shooting, the boy’s family said the “firearm our son accessed was secured.” The family’s statement went on to say that the child has an “acute disability and was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day.”
The week of the shooting was the first week the boy’s parents were not in class with him, they said in their statement, adding, “We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives.”
In a later statement to CNN, the attorney representing the child’s family said the gun was kept at the top shelf of the mother’s bedroom closet and was secured by a trigger lock, but did not specify how the boy was able to access the weapon. The gun had been legally purchased, authorities have said.
The shooting was followed by weeks of questions from concerned community members about how school officials had responded to earlier instances of alleged violent behavior.
A January 24 legal notice sent to the Newport News School Board by Zwerner’s attorney alleged that the boy had a history of disturbing behavior, including cursing at staff members, trying to whip students with his belt and choking a teacher.
According to that document, the student was suspended for a day after he allegedly “slammed” and broke Zwerner’s cell phone and cursed at guidance counselors. When he returned from the suspension to Zwerner’s classroom, he shot her, the notice alleged.
Former principal denied knowing the boy had a gun
The teacher’s attorney has also alleged school officials were notified multiple times about the gun’s presence on the day of the shooting.
“Over the course of a few hours, three different times — three times — school administration was warned by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people,” attorney Diane Toscano told reporters in a late January news conference.
Toscano alleged the administration “failed to act” despite having “knowledge of imminent danger.”
An attorney for Briana Foster Newton, the former principal at the elementary school, has said her client did not know the student had a gun at school that day. Newton was reassigned after the shooting.
“The fact of the matter is that those who were aware that the student may have had a gun on the premises that day did not report this to Mrs. Newton at all,” her attorney, Pamela Branch, said in February.
Branch did not say who may have been informed the student had a gun that day.