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6-year-old boy shoots teacher in Va. school, police say

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A 6-year-old boy shot and wounded an elementary school teacher Friday in Newport News, Va., in a classroom with other pupils present, authorities said.

The female teacher, whose name was not disclosed, was shot with a handgun at about 2 p.m. at Richneck Elementary School, Newport News Police Chief Steve R. Drew said at a news briefing. He said the 6-year-old first-grader, who was taken into custody, had been involved in an altercation with the teacher. No students in the classroom were hurt.

“This was not an accidental shooting,” Drew said.

Authorities said the teacher, a woman in her 30s, was hospitalized at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News and described her wounds as life-threatening.

The incident was confined to one room at the school, Drew said.

“We did not have a situation where someone was going around the school shooting,” he said. “We had a situation in one particular location where a gunshot was fired.”

The school has 558 students in kindergarten through fifth grade in the current academic year, according to the Virginia Department of Education. The shooting left school and city officials rattled.

“It hurts my heart,” Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones said at a news conference. “It’s a dark day for Newport News. But we’re going to learn from this, and we’re going to come back stronger”

Hundreds of parents and other adults swarmed into the school’s parking lot after learning of the incident. After being assured that no children had been hurt, the adults were organized by authorities into groups according to the grades of the children they had come to pick up.

Then a long process began in which the grown-ups were escorted one at a time into the school’s gymnasium, where the pupils were assembled, waiting to be united with the adults. This was still going on at 4 p.m. as Drew stood outside the school, briefing reporters.

“We’ve got all the kids safe,” he said. “They’re interacting with officers [in the gym] and having some fun and slapping high-fives and teasing each other. … There are plenty of counselors here, working with the students, talking to the students.”

Drew indicated that the teachers at the school had the situation largely under control when police arrived after the shooting, and that officers had to conduct only “a low-level tactical sweep” of the school.

“Faculty and staff in the building, the way they responded was heroic,” the chief said.

Newport News Public Schools Superintendent George Parker III said at the evening news conference that “today, our students got a lesson in gun violence,” and asked for community support to make sure guns were not available to youth. Teachers, he said, “cannot control access to weapons.”

“I’m sounding like a broken record today because I continue to reiterate that we need to keep the guns out of the hands of our young people,” he said. “This is evidence today that these are the things that happen when we have access to weapons.”

Parker said Richneck Elementary School would not be in session Monday.

Drew said investigators were exploring, among other things, how the child got the gun.

“I want to know where that firearm came from, what was the situation,” the chief said.

Any court proceedings involving the suspected shooter could be challenging. Former Fairfax County Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Casey Lingan said that Virginia law presumes young children don’t have the maturity to carry out crimes in a legal sense, making convictions all but impossible.

Lingan said an alternative to charging a child in such a case might be petitioning a juvenile court for something akin to probation, known as a “child in need of services.” The program would give the child community services and other help under the supervision of a judge.”

It’s basically a plan structured through the courts to get the kid on the right path,” Lingan said.

As for shootings involving grade school age children, they appear to be relatively rare, but not unheard of.

David Riedman, a scholar who compiles a database of school shootings, said the number since 1970 involving children under 10 is 17, out of about 2,200 total incidents of gunfire on school grounds. That proportion is less than one percent.

He said Friday’s shooting was the fourth to allegedly involve a 6-year-old.

Clarence Williams contributed to this account.

This developing story has been updated.