K-12 School Shooting Database founder says gun violence on school campuses escalating

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – A shooting inside of a Newport News elementary school classroom sent shockwaves through the community, prompting officials and the public to question how a 6-year-old could get a gun, and why he would intentionally shoot his first grade teacher.

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew called Friday’s shooting at Richneck Elementary School “unprecedented.”

Police continue to investigate the shooting, but Drew confirmed that a 6-year-old boy used his mother’s gun to intentionally shoot his teacher, Abby Zwerner. The 25-year-old was seriously injured, but is in stable condition.

According to the K-12 School Shooting Database, the shooting at Richneck Elementary School is the second time in recorded history that a child as young as six intentionally shot another person in an educational setting. The other incident involving a 6-year-old shooter happened in 2000 when a boy shot and killed his classmate in a first grade classroom in Flint, Mich.

Three other shootings involving children aged five and six are also recorded in the database, but were all deemed accidental.

“We think that young children are not capable of violence, but there are these rare cases,” said David Riedman, founder of the K-12 School Shooting Database.

Riedman began collecting school shooting data in 2018 after a gunman murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The project currently includes data from more than 2,200 incidents at schools dating back to 1970, including suicides, accidents and when bullets hit school property.

“My hope now is that data from more than 2,200 incidents can remove assumptions, and instead of people having good ideas, people can have data-driven ideas that can be actual solutions for preventing school violence,” Riedman said.

Although the young age of the suspected shooter at Richneck Elementary School represents a rarity in the data, Riedman said gun violence on school campuses is escalating.

The database shows that the number of shootings at schools reached a high in 2006 at 59 incidents in a single year, but that record was more than doubled in 2018 when 119 shootings were reported in American schools. Over the last two years, the numbers of shootings at schools have reached new records with 250 incidents reported in 2021 and 302 reported in 2022.

“Shootings on school property are alarmingly commonplace. They occurred almost every school day this prior fall, and the only time they get national attention is when a 6-year-old shoots his teacher in a classroom,” Riedman said.

Gun violence on school property results in real lives shattered and stolen. Since 2018, more than 1,056 people were killed or wounded in shootings at schools.

“This shooting in Newport News actually highlights a national problem that gets very little attention,” Riedman said. “There were 302 different shootings on school property last year. In many of those, it was an isolated incident in which just one person was killed or wounded. One person killed or wounded at a school has a profound impact on that entire community.”