Prosecutors' Dilemma: Shooting Suspect Is Only 6

Condition of Virginia teacher improving after being shot in classroom
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 8, 2023 8:00 AM CST
Prosecutors' Dilemma: Shooting Suspect Is Only 6
Police respond to a shooting at Richneck Elementary School, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, in Newport News, Va.   (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

The one piece of good news out of Newport News, Virginia, after a classroom shooting is that teacher Abigail "Abby" Zwerner is improving. Though she originally had injuries described as life-threatening, Zwerner, believed to be in her 30s, is "trending in a positive direction" in the hospital, says Mayor Phillip Jones, per the AP. Police say a 6-year-old boy deliberately shot her in the abdomen Friday during what they describe as a confrontation, and the Newport Daily Press reports that it's unlikely a defendant so young could be prosecuted.

“I think it would be incredibly hard to prosecute a 6-year-old, no matter how serious a crime they’ve committed,” says University of Virginia Law school professor Andrew Block. “It would be incredibly difficult and not likely to lead to a satisfactory or helpful outcome for anybody involved.” In Virginia, not only is the boy too young to be tried as an adult (the threshold is 14), he's too young to be committed to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice (the threshold is 11). Police say the boy was taken into custody, without elaborating. That could mean that the state's Department of Social Services has him.

One possible outcome is the filing of a Child in Need of Services petition, used for children under 14 who are seen as a danger to themselves or others, per the Daily Press. It might involve some combination of counseling and rehabilitative services, perhaps including the boy's parents. Police still have not disclosed how the boy got the gun. Meanwhile, a parent of a child in the classroom of Richneck Elementary School says that Zwerner had the presence of mind to tell her other students to run after she was shot, per the BBC. (More school shooting stories.)

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