A 6-year-old is unlikely to be accused of shooting a teacher, but the parents could be, experts say


The 6-year-old boy accused of shooting his Virginia teacher on Friday with a gun he took from his home is unlikely to be charged, but his parents could be criminally guilty depending on whether they secured the gun properly, experts said.

The student’s mother legally purchased the gun used in the shooting, according to Newport News police, but authorities have not specified how the boy got it or whether it was properly secured.

Virginia, unlike Massachusetts and Oregon, does not have a law specifying how to secure guns in a home, said Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

It has a misdemeanor law meant to protect children under the age of 14 from access to firearms, Anderman said.

Newport News Police Chief Steve speaks during a news conference in Newport News, Virginia, on Monday.John C. Clark/AP

The boy, who has not been publicly identified due to his age, shot first-grade teacher Abigail Zwerner while teaching about 20 students at Richneck Elementary School, authorities said.

Zwerner, who was injured when the bullet tore through her hand and upper chest, survived and has been hailed as a hero. She managed to escort the students safely out of the classroom after she was injured, Police Chief Steve Drew said Monday.

The boy shot Zwerner with a 9mm Taurus firearm he obtained at his home, Drew said. Determining how or if the gun was secured inside the home will be a «key item» for investigators, he said.

Drew told CNN Tuesday that the mother could face charges under Virginia law, but added that there are many angles the investigation must cover.

When all the facts are gathered, any prosecution decisions will be made in consultation with the Commonwealth Prosecutor’s Office, Drew said Monday.

During Monday’s press conference, Drew only mentioned the boy’s mother. He did not mention any potential charges against the boy.

Drew reiterated Monday that he thought the boy intentionally shot his teacher and said there was more than one round in the gun.

“This shooting was not accidental. It was intentional,” she said.

The boy was in court-ordered temporary detention and was being treated at a medical center. He has 96 hours to appear before a judge who will determine whether he will continue treatment and what the next steps are in the case, Drew said.

Drew, police and the Commonwealth Prosecutor’s Office could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Juvenile court authorities declined to answer whether the boy’s case was being supervised by the court.

NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos said the boy is highly unlikely to be charged, even in juvenile court.

“While in theory they could charge him with a crime, they would have to show that a 6-year-old was capable of forming intent to murder,” Cevallos said. He added that the boy is unlikely to be charged because he is not competent to stand trial because he «can’t help his lawyer and doesn’t understand what’s going on.»

The boy’s parents could be charged with reckless endangerment or child neglect, Cevallos said.

In recent years, several adults have been charged in Virginia after a child fired an unsecured gun.

In February, a mother was accused of child neglect after her 10-year-old son was found alone in a Virginia Beach hotel room with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the leg, police said. The boy was expected to recover.

Also in February, a Newport News police officer was charged with a misdemeanor charge of allowing access to firearms to a minor about four months after a young boy accidentally shot himself and killed himself with his father’s gun, according to the NBC affiliate. CURLY from Portsmouth, Virginia.

In October 2013, the Virginian-Pilot reported that the parents of an elementary school student in Norfolk were charged with child neglect after their son brought a gun to school. The boy showed his teacher an empty firearms magazine and they took him to the principal’s office. The gun, but no ammunition, was found in the boy’s backpack, the newspaper reported.

Madelyn Urabe Y The Associated Press contributed.

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