By BEN FINLEY and MATTHEW BARAKAT (Associated Press)
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A 6-year-old student shot and wounded a teacher at his school in Virginia during an altercation inside a first-grade classroom Friday, police and school officials in the city of Newport News said.
Experts said a school shooting involving a 6-year-old is extremely rare, although not unheard of, while Virginia law limits the ways in which a child that age can be punished for such a crime.
No students were injured in the shooting at Richneck Elementary School, police said. The teacher — a woman in her 30s — suffered life-threatening injuries. Her condition had improved somewhat by late afternoon, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said.
“We did not have a situation where someone was going around the school shooting,” Drew told reporters, later adding that the gunshot was not an accident.
Drew said the student and teacher had known each other in a classroom setting.
He said the boy had a handgun in the classroom, and investigators were trying to figure out where he obtained it. The police chief did not provide further details about the shooting, the altercation or what happened inside the school.
Joselin Glover, whose son is in fourth grade, told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper she got a text from the school stating that one person was shot and another was in custody.
“My heart stopped,” she said. “I was freaking out, very nervous. Just wondering if that one person was my son.”
Carlos, her 9-year-old, was at recess. But he said he and his classmates were soon holed up in the back of a classroom.
“Most of the whole class was crying,” Carlos told the newspaper.
Parents and students were reunited at a gymnasium door, Newport News Public Schools said via Facebook.
The police chief did not specifically address questions about whether authorities were in touch with the boy’s parents, but said members of the police department were handling that investigation.
“We have been in contact with our 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 U.S. Navy vessels.
Richneck has about 550 students who are in kindergarten through fifth grade, according to the Virginia Department of Education’s website. School officials have already said that there will be no classes at the school on Monday.
“Today our students got a lesson in gun violence,” said George Parker III, Newport News schools superintendent, “and what guns can do to disrupt, not only an educational environment, but also a family, a community.”
Virginia law does not allow 6-year-olds to be tried as adults.
In addition, a 6-year-old is too young to be committed to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice if found guilty.
A juvenile judge would have authority, though, to revoke a parent’s custody and place a child under the purview of the Department of Social Services.
A school shooting involving a 6-year-old is extremely rare, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Boston’s Northeastern University.
Fox told The Associated Press Friday evening that he could think of one previous incident involving a child that age.
In 2000, a 6-year-old boy fired a bullet from a .32-caliber gun inside Buell Elementary near Flint, Michigan, 60 miles (96 kilometers) from Detroit, striking 6-year-old Kayla Rolland in the neck, according to an AP article from the time. She died a half-hour later.
Fox analyzed school shooting data sets going back to 1970 from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security, which is located at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He said the data listed school shootings involving children ages 7, 8, 9 and older, but not 6-year-olds.
Another factor that stands out about the Virginia shooting is that it occurred in a classroom, Fox said. Many occur outside a school building where students are unsupervised.
From 2010 through 2021, there were more than 800 school-related shootings in K-12 schools that involved 1,149 victims. Thirty percent of those occurred in the school building, said Fox, who published the 2010 book, “Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool Through College.”
“There are students who killed teachers, more typically high school students,” Fox said. “I don’t know of other cases where a 6-year-old shot a teacher.”
Barakat reported from Falls Church, Virginia.