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Charges are pending against a Virginia first grader after a teacher was shot

DWANE BROWN, HOST:

Classes are canceled this week at an elementary school in Newport News, Va. That's where police say a first-grader shot a teacher. As Mechelle Hankerson of member station WHRO tells us, it's not clear how authorities will respond to the unique legal and ethical questions presented by the shooting at Richneck Elementary.

MECHELLE HANKERSON, BYLINE: On Friday, after the shooting, school superintendent George Parker was simply frustrated.

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GEORGE PARKER: I'm sounding like a broken record today because I continue to reiterate that we need to keep the guns out of the hands of our young people.

HANKERSON: Newport News police haven't said much other than a first-grader fired a gun at the teacher, and it was not accidental. The teacher was critically injured but is improving. In Virginia, children younger than 14 aren't likely to go through the normal criminal justice system. Kids who commit violent crimes may not understand their actions have repercussions or, in the case of shootings, that there could be permanent consequences. Authorities have so far declined to comment on potential charges. Mike Mullin is a Newport News lawyer who's spent most of his career working on cases involving children. He also represents the city in the state legislature. He expects prosecutors will file a special legal petition that allows the state to take custody of the child.

MIKE MULLIN: Perhaps you would go and remove them from the home and move them towards wraparound services and make sure that there is mental health services, make sure that they're in the type of foster care system that they need to be in.

HANKERSON: It's unclear how or where the Richneck Elementary student got the gun, but Virginia law says adults who leave firearms loaded, unsecured and accessible to young children can be charged with a misdemeanor and sentenced up to a year in jail. Mullin, a Democrat, says that's not the kind of punishment expected when a violent crime like a shooting occurs. He hopes it's an issue his fellow lawmakers will take up when the legislature begins its annual session on Wednesday. For now, Richneck Elementary students are expected to return to school on Tuesday, where they will be greeted with added counselors and extra security measures. For NPR News, I'm Mechelle Hankerson in Norfolk, Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mechelle Hankerson