The mother of a six-year-old boy who shot his teacher should be held criminally responsible for the “intentional” assault, US authorities say as the school also faces allegations of failing to protect staff.
The allegations are the latest development in the state of Virginia case in which a boy shot Abigail Zwerner, a first grade teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News. The January incident was the third school shooting in the city in 17 months.
Prosecutors had not charged the boy, but argued his 25-year-old mother is guilty because she bought the gun and allegedly failed to keep it safe. The woman, whom the Telegraph chose not to name, will also be charged with child neglect.
Diane Toscano, a lawyer for Ms Zwerner, said there were “multilevel accountability failures” leading up to the shooting.
“Today’s announcement addresses just one of those failures,” Toscano said in a statement.
The attorney last week filed a $40 million lawsuit against the school and some administrators, claiming they “failed her miserably” the day she was killed.
“As a result of their inaction, Abby was killed by a six-year-old student, and she will never be the same,” Toscano said.
“She has had four surgeries and still has a bullet lodged in her. In addition to holding the school division accountable for her failures, this lawsuit is a means of doing Abby justice in this tragic but entirely preventable situation.”
Days after the shooting, school officials revealed that Richneck Elementary administrators had suspected the boy might have a weapon. They searched the boy’s backpack but didn’t find the gun.
Ms. Zwerner’s attorneys said in the lawsuit that all defendants knew the boy “had a history of random violence” at school and at home, including an incident the year before in which he “strangled and suffocated” his teacher. asylum.
The family’s defendants told the Associated Press after the Jan. 6 shooting that the gun had been in their mother’s closet on a shelf well over 6 feet high and that it had a trigger that required a wrench.
The family said the boy has an “acute disability” and was under a care plan “which included his mother or father attending school with him and driving him to class every day”. The week of the shooting was the first week in which a parent was not in class with him, they said.
Police Chief Steve Drew has repeatedly called the shooting “intentional”. He said there were no warnings and no struggle before the boy aimed the gun at Ms Zwerner and fired one shot, hitting her in the hand and chest.
The injured teacher moved her students out of the classroom before being rushed to hospital, where she remained for nearly two weeks.
After the shooting, the school board fired the district superintendent, and Richneck’s assistant principal resigned from the school division. The principal is still employed by the district.
Richneck also set up metal detectors before it reopened three weeks after the shooting.
Howard Gwynn, the city’s chief prosecutor, confirmed on Monday that the investigation was continuing and that it was possible more adults would be charged.
“The special grand jury will investigate to determine whether further charges against other individuals are warranted by the facts and the law,” Gwynn said.
The Virginia Criminal Child Neglect Act states that any parent, guardian or other person responsible for the care of a child “whose willful act or omission in the care of such child was so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a reckless contempt for the human life” is guilty of an offense punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
Adults can also face up to a year in prison if they “carelessly abandon a loaded, unprotected firearm in a manner that endangers the life or limb of any child under the age of fourteen.”
Despite the large number of school shootings in the United States, since 1970 there have only been 16 cases in which the perpetrator was under the age of 10.
Under Virginia law, a six-year-old cannot be charged as an adult despite the seriousness of the crime.
Even if indicted in juvenile court, the minimum age for child custody is 11. Mr Gwynn said it would be “problematic” to charge the boy because a child that young would not understand the legal system.