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Child who shot Virginia teacher won’t be charged

Richmond, Va.

Authorities in a Virginia town where a 6-year-old boy shot and wounded his teacher will not file criminal charges against the child, the local prosecutor told NBC News on Wednesday, as legal experts expected.

But Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwin said his office has yet to decide whether any adults will face criminal charges.

Newport News police said the boy used his mother’s 9mm handgun in the Jan. 6 shooting at Richneck Elementary School. The lawyer of the child’s mother stated earlier that the legally purchased weapon was kept in a high cabinet with a lock on it.

Gwynn did not immediately return two phone messages and two emails from The Associated Press seeking comment.

He told NBC that “the prospect of a 6-year-old facing trial is problematic” because he would not have the competence to understand the legal system and what the charges entail.

Gwynn told the outlet that his office is still focusing on others besides the child.

“Once we have analyzed all the facts, we will charge any person or persons that we believe can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have committed a crime,” he said.

The decision was not a surprise. Although it is possible to prosecute a 6-year-old child under Virginia law, legal experts say it is highly unlikely that prosecutors will even try.

A common law doctrine known as “child protection” holds that children under the age of 7 cannot be prosecuted for a crime because they are too young to form criminal intent. The judge must also find that the child is competent to stand trial, meaning that he or she can understand the legal process and assist the attorneys who represent him or her.

“You have to be able to show that they understood the seriousness of it, planned it and carried it out,” Julie McConnell, a law professor at the University of Richmond, told the AP. “It will be very difficult to prove that a 6-year-old child can understand that what he did could have permanent consequences,” McConnell said.

He added: “The question is not how do we hold the child accountable, the question is how do we hold ourselves accountable as a society, how do we deal with the fact that it’s so easy for kids to get a gun in the first place? “

Newport News police turned their investigation over to Gwinn’s office last month. Police Chief Steve Drew said in February that he understands “people would like a case open and closed, that’s just not what we have here.”

Drew described a complex investigation that involved coordinating interviews with first-graders that required their parents’ permission, as well as the expertise of a child psychologist.

Gwinn told the AP last month that city detectives turned over three binders of information to his office.

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

The decision not to charge the child is the latest development in a shooting that has sent shockwaves through the shipbuilding city of about 185,000 people near the Chesapeake Bay.

The 6-year-old boy, whose identity is not known, shot first grade teacher Abby Zwerner while she was teaching in her class.

The chief of police has repeatedly described the shootings as “intentional”. Drew said there was no warning and no struggle before the kid pointed the gun at Zwerner and fired one shot, hitting him in the arm and chest.

Zwerner, 25, pulled her students out of the classroom before she was rushed to the hospital, where she stayed for about two weeks before being released to continue her recovery at home.

James Ellenson, an attorney for the 6-year-old’s family, told the AP in January that the gun the boy used was stored in his mother’s closet on a shelf more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) high and had a trigger lock that required it. key

In the wake of the shooting, the family also said in a statement that the boy has a “severe disability” and is under a care plan “that includes having his mother or father attend school and walk him to class each day.” The week of the shooting was the first time a parent was not in class with him, the family said.

The family said days before the shooting that the child was under hospital care and receiving “the treatment he needed.”

Zverner’s attorney, Diane Toscano, told reporters in January that concerned staff at Richneck Elementary School alerted administrators three times that the 6-year-old had a gun and was threatening other students in the hours before Zverner was shot. Toscano said the administration was “paralyzed by apathy” and didn’t call the police, remove the boy or lock down the school.

In early February, Toscano filed a legal notice informing Zwerner of his intention to sue Newport News Public Schools, alleging even more. They included claims that the same boy who shot Zwerner repeatedly cursed at staff and teachers, tried to whip students with his belt and once choked another teacher “until she couldn’t breathe.”

Two days before the shooting, the boy allegedly “punched” Zverner’s cell phone and broke it, according to the lawsuit. He was suspended for one day, the notice said. But when he returned to Zwere’s classroom the next day, he pulled a 9 mm handgun from his pocket and shot her as she sat at a reading table, the affidavit states.

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