Skip to main content

No criminal charges for 6-year-old Virginia boy who shot teacher, but another ‘person or persons’ may face liability: Prosecutor


Abby Zwerner is wearing a yellow sweater and holding a sign that says "Welcome to First Grade." She is smiling and looking directly at the camera.

Abby Zwerner, a first-grade teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., suffered “life-threatening” injuries after being shot by a six-year-old student on Jan. 6, 2023. [Screengrab via GoFundMe]

Following the announcement from a Virginia prosecutor that a 6-year-old student will not face criminal charges for allegedly shooting his teacher, it’s unclear whether charges will be filed at all in connection with this case.

The student, who has not been publicly identified, allegedly shot Abigail Zwerner, 25, on Jan. 6 with a handgun he had brought to school from his home. Police have determined that the shooting, which left Zwerner with “life threatening injuries,” was not an accident.

On Wednesday, Newport News Commonwealth Attorney Howard Gwynn told NBC News that he did not believe there is a legal basis to charge the child. He reportedly said that the “prospect that a 6-year-old can stand trial is problematic” because a child that young wouldn’t be able to understand the legal system and participate in his own defense.

Gwynn indicated to the network that the investigation still may result in criminal prosecution.

“Our objective is not just to do something as quickly as possible,” Gwynn reportedly said. “Once we analyze all the facts, we charge any person or persons that we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt committed a crime.”

Gwynn’s office did not immediately reply to a request from Law&Crime on Thursday for an update on the investigation.

Newport News Chief of Police Steve Drew had previously indicated that the boy’s mother may face charges. Weeks after the shooting, the child’s parents released a statement through their attorney in which they said the gun had been secured, and their child had an “acute disability” that normally included one of his parents coming to school with him.

A lawyer for Zwerner has accused the school of repeatedly ignoring warnings that the boy — who allegedly had a history of violence, including apparently choking a teacher until she couldn’t breathe — had a gun with him that day.

“The administration could not be bothered,” Diane Toscano said in a late-January press conference, adding that one school administrator downplayed the risk, saying that the boy “has little pockets.”

Days later, it was announced that the top leadership at Richneck Elementary had been pulled from the school, and the superintendent parted ways with the district.

At the press conference, Toscano indicated that a lawsuit was pending, but a search of Virginia court records on Thursday did not indicate that a lawsuit has yet been filed.

Join the discussion 

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime: