Child shooter captures media attention

Featured Image: Mel Lhuillier | Marlin Chronicle

On Jan. 6, communities were shocked to read breaking news reports of a 6-year-old boy at Richneck Elementary School who shot his teacher. Abby Zwerner, a 25-year-old teacher at the Newport News school of Richneck, was shot through her outstretched hand and upper chest. Zwerner was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

13News Now reported that during a virtual town hall meeting, Superintendent Dr. George Parker III said that the boy’s backpack was searched upon arriving at school because he was late that morning and someone reported he may have a weapon. The search did not reveal anything, as the boy kept the 9mm gun on his person. WUSA9 reported that the gun was legally purchased by the boy’s mother.

The family has not been identified in an effort to protect the child, but they released a statement regarding the shooting. In the statement, the family said, “The firearm our son accessed was secured.”

In addition, the report described how the boy “suffers from 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 report said that after the incident, their son was taken “under hospital care and [was] receiving the treatment he needs.”

Zwerner, after being released from the hospital, filed a lawsuit against Newport News Public Schools. Diane Toscano, Zwerner’s attorney, said, “The administration could not be bothered,” as she described the three warnings that teachers gave the administration on the day of the shooting.

Toscano said that Zwerner went to administration the morning of the shooting to report how the child threatened to beat up another student. Shortly after, another teacher reported that the child was suspected to have had a gun. Then, a third teacher told the administration that the child showed another boy his gun at recess and threatened to shoot the other boy if he told anyone. Further reports of Toscano’s words in the press conference can be found on 13News Now.

Richneck Elementary School reopened on Monday, Jan. 30, but questions remain about the future of the child shooter, his family and Zwerner’s lawsuit.

Virginia prohibits children under 11 to be in a juvenile detention facility, but the law allows for children under that age to be in an approved foster home, a facility operated by a licensed child welfare agency or some other suitable place designated by the court.

In addition, Virginian law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where a child under 14 can access it. That alone is a misdemeanor crime punishable by a maximum prison sentence of one year and a fine of $2,500. No charges have been brought against parents as of yet.

Junior Allen Shaw, a Criminal Justice major, discussed the complexity of the cases for courts and judges. “It’ll put stress onto them to make sure they get it right when they charge someone or they try to administer help to the child, whether it is through a juvenile mental facility or prosecution of the parents for negligence,” Shaw said.

Prosecution must also consider the well-being of the child. “Putting a kid in a detention facility and not teaching is not the proper way to do it, and just sending the parents away may not be the right way either,” Shaw said.

Instead, this could be an opportunity for the courts. Shaw said, “It could be a serious reflection to see how they could use this as an experimental path to try a new way of thinking to help the situation.”

There are many factors to be considered, including the mental problems that may arise from improper sentencing, Shaw explained.

The case continues to draw the media and public’s attention as developments arise and lawyers speak out for the various parties involved.

By Rhian Tramontana