RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia teacher who was seriously injured when she was shot by a 6-year-old student in Newport News is showing signs of recovery as authorities struggle to understand how such a young child was involved could be a school shooting, the city’s mayor said on Saturday.
Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones said the teacher’s condition, a woman in her 30s, is “trending in a positive direction” as she remains hospitalized. Police Chief Steve Drew met with the teacher and her family on Saturday morning. “She has improved and is currently in stable condition,” police said in a press release.
The boy shot and injured the teacher with a handgun in a first-grade classroom at Richneck Elementary School Friday, authorities said. Drew said the shooting was not an accident and was part of an altercation. No students were injured.
Police on Saturday declined to describe what led to the altercation or provide any other details about what happened in the classroom, citing the ongoing investigation.
Jones also declined to reveal details of the shooting or say how the boy gained access to the gun or who owns the gun.
“This is a red flag for the country,” Jones said.
“I think that after this event there will be a nationwide discussion on how to prevent things like this from happening.”
Virginia law does not allow 6-year-olds to be tried as adults. Furthermore, a 6-year-old is too young to be placed in the custody of juvenile court if found guilty.
However, a juvenile court judge would have the power to remove a parent’s custody and place a child under the jurisdiction of the Department of Social Services.
Jones would not say where the boy is being held.
“We’re making sure he has all the services he needs right now,” Jones said.
Experts investigating gun violence said the shooting represented an extremely rare occurrence in which a young child brought a gun into the school, injuring a teacher.
“It’s very rare and the legal system isn’t really designed or able to deal with it,” said researcher David Riedman, founder of a database that has tracked US school shootings since the 1970s.
He said Saturday he was aware of only three other shootings caused by 6-year-old students during the time he was studying. These include the fatal shooting of a fellow student in Michigan in 2000 and shootings that injured other students in Texas in 2011 and Mississippi in 2021.
Riedman said he knows of just one other case of a younger student causing school shootings, in which a 5-year-old student brought a gun to a Tennessee school in 2013 and accidentally fired it. In this case nobody was injured.
Daniel W. Webster, a Johns Hopkins University professor who studies gun violence, agreed that a 6-year-old shooting a teacher at school is extremely unusual. But he said his research shows cases of young children accessing loaded guns and accidentally shooting themselves or others in homes or other settings are increasing.
“Unfortunately, a 6-year-old who gets access to a loaded gun and shoots himself or someone else is not that rare,” he said in an email.
In the Newport News case, Drew said Friday that the shooting did not appear to be an accident and that there was a single victim. He said the student and teacher knew each other in a classroom.
“We haven’t had a situation where anyone evaded the school shooting,” Drew told reporters.
Investigators are trying to figure out where he got the gun from.
Parents and students have been reunited in a high school, the Newport News Public Schools announced via Facebook.
The police chief did not want to discuss what contact the investigators had with the boy’s parents.
“We have been in contact with our Commonwealth’s Counsel (local prosecutor) and a number of other agencies to help us provide the best possible care for this young man,” Drew said.
Newport News is a city of about 185,000 in southeast Virginia known for its shipyard, which builds the country’s aircraft carriers and other US Navy ships.
According to the Virginia Department of Education website, Richneck has about 550 students who are in kindergarten through fifth grade. Jones said there will be no classes at the school Monday and Tuesday.
“Today our students got a lesson in gun violence,” said George Parker III, principal of Newport News, “and what guns can do to disrupt not just an educational environment, but a family, a community.”
Associated Press writers Ben Finley in Norfolk, Matthew Barakat in Falls Church, and Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.