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Prosecutor gets case involving 6-year-old who shot teacher at Va. elementary school

The local prosecutor, known as the commonwealth’s attorney, will determine whether charges will be filed in the Jan. 6 shooting, which wounded Richneck Elementary School first grade teacher Abigail Zwerner.
Police tape hangs from a sign post outside Richneck Elementary School
Police tape hangs from a signpost outside Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 7 after a shooting.Jay Paul / Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Detectives in the Virginia city where a 6-year-old boy shot his teacher have finished their criminal investigation and turned it over to the local prosecutor’s office for review, the police chief for Newport News said Tuesday.

Chief Steve Drew spoke about the case during a Facebook live chat, although he offered few details.

The boy used his mother’s 9mm handgun when he shot and wounded teacher Abigail “Abby” Zwerner as she taught her class at Richneck Elementary on Jan. 6, police have said.

Police said the mother’s gun was purchased legally. The parents’ attorney, James S. Ellenson, has said the weapon was secured on a top shelf in the mother's closet and had a trigger lock.

Drew said his department’s investigation was turned over Tuesday morning to the local prosecutor, known as the Commonwealth’s Attorney, who will determine if any charges will be filed.

“I totally understand people would like to have a case open and shut — that’s just not what we have here,” Drew said.

Abigail Zwerner
Abigail Zwerner.Abby Zwerner via Facebook

Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard E. Gwynn told The Associated Press that the city’s detectives handed over three binders of information to his office. Those files do not include the body camera footage of dozens of police officers who responded to the shooting. That video will also be reviewed.

“It’s a lot of information and we’re going to carefully review it as we do in every case,” Gwynn said.

Legal experts have said that even though it is theoretically possible under Virginia law to criminally charge a 6-year-old child, there are numerous obstacles to doing so and it’s highly unlikely that any prosecutor would even try.

But adults could be held accountable. For example, a Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to a child under 14, a misdemeanor crime punishable with a maximum one-year prison sentence and a $2,500 fine.

The shooting has sent shock waves through Newport News, a shipbuilding city of about 185,000 people near the Chesapeake Bay. The school system has installed metal detectors in the school where the shooting occurred, while the superintendent and assistant principal have resigned.

Zwerner spent nearly two weeks in the hospital before coming home to continue her recovery. Her attorney has sent the school district a notice that she intends to sue. So have the families of two students at the elementary school.