Six-Year-Old Boy Pulls Gun From Backpack and Shoots Teacher

From a Washington Post story by Jim Morrison and Allison Klein headlined “Newport News boy ‘in shock’ after witnessing classmate shoot teacher”:

The shot was so loud, one child told his mother, that he felt like he couldn’t breathe.

The first-grade class at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News was in a small reading group about to go to art when one of their classmates pulled a handgun from his backpack and pointed it at his teacher, according to Brittaney Gregory, whose son was in the class. “She was going to confiscate it, and that’s when he shot,” she said.

Run, the teacher said. The children raced to another teacher’s classroom area, where they stayed in lockdown.

Her son thought the teacher was shot in the hand or arm. Authorities originally described her wounds as life-threatening but said she has improved and was in serious but stable condition. They have not identified the female teacher.

According to police radio traffic archived by the website Broadcastify, responders said a woman at the school had been shot in the abdomen and through the hand.

After the shooting, the 6-year-old was in police custody, authorities said. City officials declined to say where the child is now, and whether he will be charged with a crime. It is unclear how he got the handgun.

Gregory described the teacher as her son’s favorite, bubbly and outgoing. Occasionally, the teacher would leave notes in her son’s backpack. “I hope you had a great day,” one said. “I want you to know your smile is contagious,” said another.

When Gregory’s fiance was deployed, her son began acting out with the change. The teacher scheduled a meeting and also sent reports of his day to decipher what might be triggering his reaction. “She’s such a sweet lady,” she added. “She’s very attentive to the kids.”

She described her son as “still in shock.” Since the shooting, he’s had nightmares. “He normally sleeps in his own room but the night of the shooting he came into my room,” Gregory added. “He was talking in his sleep, saying we got to get out of here.”

Although school officials say they are mobilizing counseling and other support for the community, Gregory plans to take her son to see her therapist this week. Classes on Monday and Tuesday have been canceled for the roughly 550 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Gregory learned about the shooting when an upstairs neighbor called and asked whether she saw the news on television. “What school?” Gregory asked. “Your son’s school. They said it was the first grade,” was the reply.

“My heart instantly dropped,” Gregory recalled. She was at the school in five minutes and they waited for what seemed forever in a staging area by a church half a block away. When she got there, police told the crowd no children were injured. But she thought, “not physically, but this is going to scar him mentally.”

They brought her son to her after he talked to a detective, she said. He’s normally a talker, but he stumbled over his words. “I was so relieved,” she added. “But you could tell on his face what he was going through. He was a deer in the headlights.”

Gregory echoed what others have been saying since Friday. She never imagined a shooting could happen in her son’s school. “It’s very devastating,” she added. “It’s sad that such a young child holds so much anger.”

Andrew Block, associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and the former director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, said there is not a minimum age for being charged with a crime in Virginia, but it is unlikely the child could be prosecuted for the shooting.

“As a practical matter, it would be next to impossible to prosecute a 6-year-old, no matter how serious,” said Block.

He explained that in something called the “infancy defense,” people younger than 7 do not have the ability or mental state 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,” Block 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 6-year-old would meet that criteria.”

He said there is a tendency for people to want charges brought against the shooter in a case like this, but “the juvenile justice system would not be equipped to handle such a young kid.”

He said a more likely and productive path is for authorities to file a “child in need of services” petition, which could unlock support and interventions for the child.

An adult could face misdemeanor charges if the gun came from a home where the child lives, Block said, because under Virginia law, guns need to be secured from children under 14.

He said what is “unique and troubling and sad” about this case is that while shootings involving young children are usually accidents, that did not appear to be the case in this incident.

“There’s way more we don’t know than we do,” he said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be the teacher or teacher’s family; its horrible in every single direction.”

Allison Klein has been a journalist at The Washington Post since 2004, with a hiatus from 2013 to 2017. She edits the Inspired Life blog, a collection of surprising and unusual stories about humanity. She spent many years as a reporter covering crime, policing and police policy. Previously, she worked at the Baltimore Sun and the Miami Herald.

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