Barely a week into the new year, a 6-year-old boy shot his teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, becoming one of the youngest school shooters in the nation's history. While details of the case are still emerging, his teacher remains hospitalized with serious injuries. David Riedman, creator of the K-12 School Shooting Database, discusses the relative rarity of school shooters under age 10 and the likely aftermath of the event.
How rare is it to have a school shooter this young?
This is the 17th shooting involving a student under the age of 10 at a school since 1970 — the first year for which my database keeps track. Most of these shootings were not intentional. But in 1975, a 9-year-old student at the Pitcher School in Detroit was in a fight with a 13-year-old, left campus, got a rifle from his house and came back to the school and shot the student in the head, killing him.
In 2000, a 6-year-old boy fatally shot his 6-year-old classmate, Kayla Rolland, in their classroom at Buell Elementary School in Michigan while their teacher lined up other students in the hallway. The shooting followed a dispute on the playground.
How do kids this young typically get guns?
In most school shootings, the gun is taken from the student's home or from the house of a friend or relative. In the 2000 shooting at Buell Elementary, the student's uncle pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to prison for a minimum of two years for leaving a firearm in an easily accessible place.
The 6-year-old shooter did not face charges due to his age.
What stands out about this recent case?
The most striking part of this shooting is that it appears to be intentional. While many details remain unknown, it is likely that the student had the gun with him the entire day, possibly multiple days, before shooting his teacher. In many states, the legal system assumes that young children are not capable of the thought and planning that goes into committing a violent crime. In Virginia, the minimum age to charge someone with a felony is 14 years old.
Do schools need to start searching first graders?
Despite the attention that they generated, school shootings at any age are relatively rare. There have been 17 shootings involving kids under 10 publicly reported across a 52-year period. More than 50 million students attend schools every year, and fewer than 300 of them shoot someone on campus.
When most guns that end up in schools come from the home, I'd argue it is the responsibility of parents, relatives and older siblings to make sure that every firearm is locked, secured and accounted for.
The use of metal detectors has been shown to increase students' anxiety and are only effective with constant maintenance, training, staffing and screening procedures. Some of the incidents involving children have resulted from adults putting a firearm in the kid's bag and the child firing it when they find the gun at school.
What's next for this boy?
This remains unclear, and due to juvenile privacy laws, we may never know. The 6-year-old who killed his classmate at Buell Elementary in 2000 was not charged with a crime. In 2021 in Rigby, Idaho, a 12-year-old girl shot three people during a planned attack at Rigby Middle School. Based on her written plan, this young girl intended to kill 20 students and wound 40 to 60 others. She is being held in juvenile custody until she turns 19 — and possibly until age 21 if she is not deemed fully rehabilitated — following a guilty plea to three counts of first-degree murder.
What's next for the school?
While much attention is focused on the shooter and teacher, a classroom full of first graders witnessed their classmate shoot the teacher. She was critically injured, which means that it was likely a gruesome scene. These students will all need extensive counseling to understand and deal with this trauma. For the other students, teachers and parents, this is also a traumatic experience, and many students may no longer want to go to school.
What does this case suggest for school safety in the US broadly?
There were 302 shootings in school property in 2022, more than in any other year since 1970. Since 2017, the number of shootings each year has significantly increased. This pattern matches the spiking rates of violent crime and gun crime across the country. It is important to remember that most shootings at schools are committed by current or former students, not outsiders breaking into the building. Because of this, school security plans need to include all levels of schools and shootings by all ages of students.