Breaking News
More () »

Richneck Elementary isn't the first time a 6-year-old has opened fire at school

13News Now Investigates: Three other school shootings involving 6-year-olds are all we have in terms of legal precedent for Friday's shooting at Richneck Elementary.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Questions remain over how the legal system will handle the suspect in a Richneck Elementary School shooting.

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said it's "unprecedented" for a 6-year-old child to shoot a gun at school.

It's the youngest suspected shooter his team has investigated -- but similar cases have unfolded at least three other times in American history.

So what is the precedent for handling these tragic cases involving children?

K-12 school shootings

David Riedman is a criminologist and founder of the K-12 School Shooting Database.

His research shows more than 2,200 shootings have happened on school grounds over the past 53 years.

Rarely is a first grader behind the trigger, although it has happened before.

"This is the fourth case of a 6-year-old with a gun," Riedman said. "This is very similar to a case in 2000 in Flint, Michigan, where a 6-year-old shot and killed another 6-year-old inside the school.”

In that case, Michigan prosecutors determined the boy was “too young to have formed criminal intent.” 

Instead, they charged his uncle with involuntary manslaughter for leaving the gun easily accessible in their home. He served two years in prison. 

The other two cases were ruled accidents. 

"One was a student that had a handgun in their backpack and it fired in the cafeteria," Riedman said. "The other was a student who appeared to be showing off the gun at dismissal. It fired and struck another student."

The intentional shooting of Newport News teacher Abigail Zwerner by her 6-year-old student at Richneck Elementary School captured headlines worldwide, and made history in America.

Riedman's research shows this is the youngest child to have intentionally fired a weapon at school.

"Yeah this is by far the youngest. It's really unique in that circumstance," he said.

Who is held criminally responsible?

Riedman says school shootings involving children as young as Elementary School students are 100% preventable.

"If adults secure their firearms, most school shootings cannot happen," he said. "Young children cannot purchase weapons on their own, which means they have to take them from somewhere else. And in the case of a young child, that means it's coming from their house, a relative's house, a friend's house."

Riedman points to a case in Chicago in 2021, when a 7-year-old girl fired a gun inside a classroom the bullet hit a classmate in the abdomen. 

The classmate was seriously hurt, and the child's mother was charged with three counts of child endangerment. 

In Newport News, police say the mother of the boy legally bought the gun and kept it at home. There are still questions over how the gun was secured and whether anyone will face charges. 

Even Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew seems stumped by one aspect of the case.

"How does a 6-year-old know how to use a firearm? I don't know that I can give you an adequate answer," Chief Drew said in a Monday afternoon news conference. "I don't know how to answer that. It's unprecedented. I don't know how to answer that question." 

The K-12 School Shooting Database shows a large spike starting in 2018. Riedman says this follows a pattern of increased gun violence nationwide.

"When one person is shot in school, it has a profound effect on every student who witnesses it," he said. "The victim and the entire school community."

Before You Leave, Check This Out