January 28, 2023

Officials in Newport News, Va., say a six-year-old who shot and wounded his teacher during class got the gun from home. First grade teacher Abby Zwerner was shot during a lesson on Friday.



JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Officials in Newport News, Va., say a 6-year-old who shot and wounded his teacher during class got the gun from his home. First-grade teacher Abby Zwerner was shot during a lesson on Friday.

Ryan Murphy of member station WHRO joins us from Newport News. Ryan, welcome.

RYAN MURPHY, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: Ryan, there have been a lot of questions about what happened inside that classroom at this elementary school. What have you learned?

MURPHY: So I just got out of a briefing with the police chief and the superintendent. We learned that, you know, there hadn’t been any sort of fight or altercation like had been rumored over the weekend. We learned that the boy brought the gun to school. He pulled it out while the teacher was doing a lesson. He pointed it at her, and he fired once. We learned that she was shot sort of in the palm and in the upper chest by the same bullet. You know, after she’d been shot, she was able to get all the kids – other kids out of the classroom, out of danger before she was tended to for her injuries.

SUMMERS: It’s a sad fact that school shootings are unfortunately commonplace in the United States. But what happens when the accused shooter is a child who’s just 6 years old?

MURPHY: Yeah, that’s a tough question. And Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said this was a case that was going to require a lot of nuance and a lot of time to make sure they did everything right. Right now, the boy is 6 years old. He’s being held. He was – he’s being evaluated by mental health professionals. At some point, he’ll either go before a judge or be, you know, recommended for more services.

We’ve been talking to some legal experts. It seems really unlikely that a kid this young would ever actually be criminally charged in something like this. But, you know, there’s a lot of questions about, you know, what a child of 6 would understand about, you know, the proceedings around them, the actions they undertook in the first place. You know, so it’s a really thorny question of what to do here.

SUMMERS: And, Ryan, what do we know about how this boy obtained this gun?

MURPHY: So the police have said that he took it from his home. His mother had purchased it legally. But, you know, obviously, there’s a lot more questions the police haven’t answered about – how did it come into the child’s possession? The police chief said whether the gun was secured at the home or not is a really critical question for them in their investigation. Here in Virginia, failing to secure a gun and keep it away from children is a misdemeanor. But as of yet, there are no charges against anyone, including the parents, in this case.

SUMMERS: And what about that teacher, Abby Zwerner? How’s she doing?

MURPHY: It sounds like she’s doing fairly well. She was initially reported to have life-threatening injuries, but since then she’s been listed as stable. The police chief said he’s had multiple conversations with her at this point, so she’s talking. And he said the first thing that she was asking about was how the students in her classroom were doing.

SUMMERS: Ryan, we’ve got about 30 seconds left. This has been a horribly tragic event that has touched so many people’s lives in that community. How is the community reacting, and what comes next?

MURPHY: Well, what comes next is obviously a big question. Parents are obviously very freaked out. Some of them are keeping their kids out of school. The school – classes at the elementary school where the shooting happened have been suspended for at least the next week. And, you know, the superintendent said, you know, as much as he hates the idea of making any school look more like a prison, there may be, you know, metal detectors going up at the elementary schools in this city sometime soon. So that’s – you know, there’s a lot of questions asked and still to be answered in this community right now.

SUMMERS: That’s reporter Ryan Murphy of WHRO in Virginia. Thank you.

MURPHY: Thank you.

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