A six-year-old student accused of shooting his first-grade teacher in Virginia used a gun that was legally purchased by his mother, according to reports.
Abigail Zwerner was teaching a normal lesson at her school in Newport News when the boy pulled out the gun at the desk where he was sitting, took aim and fired, police say. Ms Zwerner put up her hand but the bullet went through it and struck her in the chest.
Police said on Monday that the shooting appeared to have been intentional - not accidental - after he had brought the gun to class from home, according to The New York Times.
Investigators said that the 9-millimeter Taurus handgun had been bought legally by the child’s mother.
“The child had obtained that firearm, placed it in his backpack and brought it to school,” Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said, pointing to interviews with both the child and mother.
He added that any charges filed will be based on “what the facts are and what the law supports”.
State law in Virginia forbids leaving a loaded firearm in any area where it can be accessed by a child under the age of 14, which is a crime listed as a misdemeanour.
But there’s no law in the state mandating that all firearms be safely stored in residences.
Ms Zwerner was badly injured but managed to send her class of about 20 children running from the classroom into the hallway as another member of staff came into the room and restrained the six-year-old boy.
The first-grade teacher entered the hallway and moved in the direction of the office to call for help, but not before turning “around to make sure that every one of those students was safe,” , adding that her condition was stable.
“I believe she did save lives because I don’t know what else might have happened,” he added.
The child is being treated at a medical facility, officials said. The family hasn’t been named.
Addressing safety concerns, the superintendent of Newport News Public Schools, George Parker III, said “we’ve addressed metal detection, random searching and all kinds of other things at the secondary level”.
“I’ll be honest, who would be prepared for a 6-year-old to bring a loaded weapon to school and shoot their teacher?” he added, according to The New York Times.
Mr Parker told the paper that metal detectors and other measures employed at high schools may be put in place.
“I hate to be at this point where I’m considering this, but we have to start relying on those types of deterrence at the elementary level as well,” he said.
“My board members know how I feel about making our schools look anything like a prison,” he added. “I want our schools to be great places to educate children.”
But he said that “if we can’t maintain safety, or at least get to the point where we can have an effective and safe school day, kids won’t learn anyway”.
Arizona State University associate professor Elizabeth Anthony toldThe Times that “the research consistently indicates that none of the school hardening procedures, including metal detectors, prevent school shootings”.
Metal detectors have been found to “reduce the amount of contraband, but not directly prevent gun violence,” she said.
One mother outside the school criticized US gun culture and weak gun control legislation.
“The problem is the bloody guns. I’m only here because my husband is in the military. Otherwise, I would not have chosen to come to this country,” she told News3.