VIRGINIA - The six-year-old boy who is accused of bringing a gun to school and shooting his teacher in Newport News, Virginia, this month has an “acute disability” and had been under an intensive care plan at school, his family said on Thursday in its first statement since the shooting on Jan 6.
The statement, released through the family’s lawyer, said that the boy had previously been accompanied in school each day by his mother or father as part of the plan for his disability, and that the week of the shooting was the first time that a parent was not in class with him.
“We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the family said in a statement.
The statement also said that the gun, which authorities said the boy brought from home, had been “secured”, but did not explain how the boy had gotten access to it.
Police declined to comment. No one has been charged in the case so far, a spokesman for the Newport News Police Department said on Thursday. The Newport News school district declined to comment, citing student privacy.
The new details add context to a painful case in which police say the 6-year-old obtained a handgun at home, brought it to Richneck Elementary School and pulled the trigger in his first-grade classroom, seriously injuring his teacher, Ms Abigail Zwerner, 25. She has been released from the hospital.
The child’s history also raises questions about the school’s response on the day of the shooting, when district officials say that an employee at Richneck Elementary, acting on a tip, searched the boy’s backpack for a gun. No weapon was found at that time, the school district said. Later, around 2pm, police said, the boy held up a handgun in his first-grade classroom and fired one shot at his teacher.
The case, unusual because of the child’s young age, spurred new conversation around school security and access to guns, in an era of increasing school shootings. Richneck Elementary has been closed since the shooting, and the school district announced it would install metal detectors in all school buildings, including elementary schools.
In the statement, the family said it had been committed to “responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children”.
Police have said that the handgun was legally purchased by the child’s mother. Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to children younger than 14, a crime that is punishable as a misdemeanour.
“Our heart goes out to our son’s teacher and we pray for her healing,” the boy’s family said in the statement, adding that Ms Zwerner had “worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son”.
The boy has also been “under hospital care and receiving the treatment he needs,” his family said.
“We continue to pray for his teacher’s full recovery, and for her loved ones who are undoubtedly upset and concerned,” the family said. “At the same time, we love our son and are asking that you please include him and our family in your prayers.” NYTIMES