This morning, as I was taking down all the Christmas shit in my living room, Bill read me a very tragic news story coming out of Newport News, Virginia. I am very familiar with Newport News, as I grew up in Gloucester, Virginia, which isn’t that far away from there. I used to think of Newport News as kind of an exciting place, as it was a lot more populated than Gloucester was, and it had shopping malls. Now, I kind of think of it in less glowing terms, as there’s a lot of crime and random violence there, not to mention too much traffic. That’s been the case for a pretty long time.
The shocking story Bill told me about today involves a six year old boy. The first grader somehow got his hands on a firearm and took it to Richneck Elementary School. Yesterday, at about 2:00 PM, the boy shot his teacher, a woman in her 30s. Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew says they don’t know how the child got the handgun, but the shooting was not accidental. It happened in a classroom, after the child had an altercation with the teacher. She’s now at Riverside Regional Medical Center, being closely monitored by doctors, as she recovers from the wounds delivered by a six year old child. I am familiar with Riverside, having been there as a patient a couple of times myself.
ETA: Last night, I read that the teacher was identified as 25 year old Abby Zwerner. She is a fairly recent graduate of James Madison University and current resident of Williamsburg, Virginia, a town I know well. We even have a mutual Facebook friend.
ETA 2: It turns out our “mutual Facebook friend” is Abby’s aunt, whom I was friends with in high school. Six degrees of separation, I tell you. My friend shared a GoFundMe for Abby.
Richneck Elementary School serves about 550 students. There are metal detectors at the school, but up until now, students were checked randomly. I’m sure that policy will change, thanks to this incident. That will mean more hassles for the students, and another reminder that schools are not as safe as they once were. It’s also one more example as to why many talented adults might not want to go into education. Imagine this teacher, whose charges are among the youngest in school, being shot by a six year old! She probably thought she was working with a relatively safe population of children. Obviously, she can’t think that anymore.
I wish I could say I was rendered speechless by the news Bill delivered about this latest shooting. Sadly, having watched the violence unfolding in US schools over the past twenty plus years, I can’t say that this development is super surprising anymore. I don’t know what the hell has gotten into people in the United States, but it’s definitely a much more violent place than it was when I was coming of age. When I was in school, we didn’t need cops to be permanently stationed there to keep the peace. Sometimes my classmates would bring their guns to school, but only because they were going hunting, not because they wanted to shoot people.
Now, the boy has been arrested, and his future is in serious jeopardy. Fortunately, only the teacher was injured; no students or other staff members were hurt in the attack. The teacher’s condition is said to have improved somewhat over the course of the afternoon. I’m not sure what that means, as the teacher’s actual injuries haven’t been disclosed, other than to report that they were initially believed to be “life threatening”. One news report included the 911 call, which mentioned that the teacher was shot in the abdomen.
The superintendent of Newport News Public Schools, Dr. George Parker, said at the news conference that “we need to keep guns out of the hands of our young people.” Yeah, no shit. There are too many guns in our communities, and too many children are being exposed to gun violence. I don’t know a thing about this little boy, except that his life has now been forever altered. Does he even realize the seriousness of what he’s done?
I also wonder about his parents. Were they responsible for the fact that their child got ahold of a weapon and took it to school? Or was it a friend or a relative? Somehow, an adult let this child down, and now he’s going to have to pay for this action for the rest of his life, even if he doesn’t spend the rest of his childhood incarcerated. How did he learn how to use a gun?
According to the New York Times:
“I cannot control access to weapons,” Dr. Parker said. “My teachers cannot control access to weapons.” He added, “Today our students got a lesson in gun violence and what guns can do to disrupt not only an educational environment, but also a family, a community.”
Dr. Parker said school would be closed on Monday “as we work on the mental health of our staff and our students.”
It’s going to take a lot more than a day off school for the children to heal from this scary situation. Schools should be safe places for children. But then, homes should also be safe, and it doesn’t sound like the boy in this story has a safe home. I hope there will be criminal consequences for the person responsible for allowing this child to get his hands on a gun. This is a situation in which I do think prison time is entirely justified. Not only did this person put everyone at that school in danger by allowing a six year old access to a weapon, but he or she also ruined this child’s life before it’s even really begun. And that is tragic and, indeed, criminal!
If there is a bright side to this story, it’s that even though school shootings are very much on the rise, shootings perpetrated by very young children are still very rare. According to the New York Times, at this writing, there have only been 16 incidents since 1970 involving a child under age 10. This is based on research done by David Riedman, who founded the K-12 School Shooting Database after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in 2018. According to Riedman, there has only been one school shooting incident that involved someone younger than six years old. That incident happened in Memphis, Tennessee in 2013, when a 5 year old kindergartner discharged a firearm in his school’s cafeteria. No one was injured in that incident.
Anyway… I still don’t like Newport News, because it’s always been kind of crime ridden and congested. Now it has the distinction of being a place where a six year old can bring a gun on school grounds and open fire on his teacher. That is extremely and profoundly heartbreaking on so many levels. I pray the teacher is able to recover, and this child gets the intense help and intervention he obviously so desperately needs. I also wish the staff, students, and faculty at Richneck Elementary School all the best as they process what has happened. No wonder so many parents would rather homeschool these days!
I don’t want to just offer thoughts and prayers, because that seems to be a very trite thing to do… but I don’t know what else to do, other than shake my head and feel completely shocked and dismayed at the state of the world these days. It’s just terrifying, and so very sad.