RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia teacher who was critically 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 a child so young could be involved in a school shooting, said the city’s mayor on Saturday.
Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones said the condition of the teacher, 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 Saturday morning. “She has improved and is currently listed in stable condition,” police said in a news release.
The boy shot and wounded the teacher with a handgun in a first-grade classroom Friday at Richneck Elementary School, according to authorities. Drew said the shooting was not random and was part of an argument. No students were injured.
Police on Saturday declined to describe what led to the altercation or other details about what happened in the classroom, citing the ongoing investigation.
Jones also declined to disclose details of the shooting, or say how the boy got access to the gun or who owns the weapon.
“This is a red flag for the country,” Jones said.
“I think that after this incident there will be a nationwide discussion about how to prevent such things.”
Virginia law does not allow 6-year-olds to be tried as adults. Additionally, a 6-year-old is too young to be detained by the Department of Juvenile Justice if found guilty.
However, a juvenile judge would have the authority to revoke parental custody and place a child under 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 who study gun violence said the shooting represents an extremely rare instance of a young child bringing a gun into school and wounding a teacher.
“It’s very rare, and it’s not something the justice system is really designed or positioned to deal with,” said researcher David Riedman, founder of a database that tracks U.S. school shootings as far back as 1970.
He said Saturday that he is aware of only three other shootings caused by 6-year-old students during the period he has studied. These include the fatal shooting of a fellow student in 2000 in Michigan and shootings that injured other students in 2011 in Texas and 2021 in Mississippi.
Riedman said he knows of only one other case of a student younger than that causing a school shooting, in which a 5-year-old student brought a gun to a Tennessee school in 2013 and accidentally discharged it. No one was injured in that case.
Daniel W. Webster, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies gun violence, agreed that a 6-year-old shooting a teacher at school is extremely unusual. But he said his research shows that cases of young children gaining access to loaded guns and accidentally shooting themselves or others in homes or other settings are on the rise.
“A 6-year-old gaining access to a loaded gun and shooting himself or someone else is unfortunately 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 was isolated to the lone victim. He said the student and teacher had known each other in a classroom.
“We didn’t have a situation where somebody walked around the school shooting,” Drew told reporters.
Investigators were trying to find out where he got the gun.
Parents and students were reunited in a gymnasium, Newport News Public Schools said via Facebook.
The police chief declined to discuss what contact investigators have had with the boy’s parents.
“We’ve been in contact with the commonwealth’s attorney (local prosecutor) and some other entities to help us best get services to this young man,” Drew said.
Newport News is a city of about 185,000 people in southeastern Virginia known for its shipyard, which builds the nation’s aircraft carriers and other US Navy vessels.
Richneck has about 550 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, according to the Virginia Department of Education’s website. Jones said there will be no classes at the school Monday and Tuesday.
“Today our students got a lesson in gun violence,” said Newport News Superintendent of Schools George Parker III, “and what guns can do to disrupt, not only an educational environment, but also 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.