Police and EMS response at Richneck Elementary.  Credit WAVY TV 10

by James C. Sherlock

There is trauma everywhere you look.

A six-year-old boy shoots his teacher in school and we first consider the trauma.

Then we look for ways to minimize its effects.

And we simultaneously ask questions about the event itself. What happened and why?

Unless we are personally involved, and even if we are, we look for all of those answers almost immediately.

This first part of a series is about what is to be done with the kid shooter and how the widespread trauma, including his own, will be dealt with.

The 6-year-old shooter. The life of that first grader will never be the same.

He will very likely be removed from wherever he calls home and whoever he calls family. It is unclear how he will be treated beyond that. At best he will live with what he did for the rest of his life.

As for the justice system, see Code of Virginia Title 16.1 Chapter 11. Look at Article 9., Disposition. A Juvenile and Domestic Relations court will have to sort through which laws apply to this kid.

I expect the court will appoint a special advocate to investigate the non-legal aspects of this case.

He is far too young to be referred to a Circuit Court, for which the minimum age is 14, or to be institutionalized in the criminal justice system, for which the minimum age is 11.

Even the Newport News Behavioral Health Center’s Acute Inpatient Programs for Children can only take inpatients who have reached the age of 8. Longer-term residential services recipients must be 11.

That center has four staff physicians. I suspect one of them is already on the case of this kid.

In the longer term, in Virginia we have what are deemed therapeutic foster agencies, like Hope Therapeutic, headquartered in Newport News, but that is up to social services and the court.

The criminal justice system will also deal with whoever had custody of that child and whoever was the source of the gun that kid used. It will not be as solicitous of their trauma.

The wounded teacher. That wounded first grade teacher at Richneck Elementary may recover her full physical health. We certainly pray she does.

But the trauma will alter her life no matter how well she copes.

She deserved better protection than she got.

Going forward she deserves the best emotional health treatment available anywhere. Newport News should reimburse costs for her workers comp attorney and supplement workers comp payouts to physicians as needed to make her whole.

The city certainly owes her that. Whatever it costs.

Classmates. The shooter’s classmates will suffer greatly. Listen to the words from the Child Traumatic Stress Network:

Preschool and young school-age children exposed to a traumatic event may experience a feeling of helplessness, uncertainty about whether there is continued danger, a general fear that extends beyond the traumatic event and into other aspects of their lives, and difficulty describing in words what is bothering them or what they are experiencing emotionally.

This feeling of helplessness and anxiety is often expressed as a loss of previously acquired developmental skills. Children who experience traumatic events might not be able to fall asleep on their own or might not be able to separate from parents at school. Children who might have ventured out to play in the yard prior to a traumatic event now might not be willing to play in the absence of a family member.

Often, children lose some speech and toileting skills, or their sleep is disturbed by nightmares, night terrors, or fear of going to sleep. In many cases, children may engage in traumatic play—a repetitive and less imaginative form of play that may represent children’s continued focus on the traumatic event or an attempt to change a negative outcome of a traumatic event.

Are there child mental health services available in Newport News to provide sufficient support to each of those children — classmates and not – -for the periods of need?

The short answer is very likely no.

Some will have to get help from professionals online, which we all hope works. Whatever “works” turns out to mean for each child.

The Virginia Department of Behavioral Services and Developmental Health (DBSDH) provides money to Newport News annually for child emergency services and may be able to provide additional funding to help defray the costs of this unique event.

We can expect the General Assembly to earmark money in the governor’s DBSDH budget revision to fund additional services in Newport News.

Adults at the school. The leadership, teachers and staff of the school will react with the five stages of grief, maybe not all in the traditional order.

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

The school division has announced that Richneck will be closed through Tuesday at least. I suspect it will be longer than that. Perhaps much longer.

Some who worked there won’t get to acceptance until long after Wednesday, if ever. At least not acceptance evidenced by a willingness to work in that school.

Some may never work in any school again.

Bottom line. The justice system will determine what happened, who is responsible and what will be done with the child shooter in this specific case.

I have recited applicable statutes for dealing with the child shooter as well as support services for the potential traumas of everyone touched by this.

Next I will provide information about the school itself. It may help us understand the immediate environment in which the shooting happened. And whether that matters.

It turns out that it may have mattered indeed.

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25 responses to “The Shooting at Richneck Elementary – Part One”

  1. VaNavVet Avatar

    “A six-year old boy shoots his teacher in school and we first consider the trauma” Apparently, that “we” did not include JAB based upon a reading of his earlier post. Sherlock raises many good points which should include consequences for the owner of the firearm.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      This may not be an appropriate subject on which to take potshots at writers on other aspects of the case, in that case the initial report.

      Jim’s comments on the potential effects on teacher retention were, and still are, important.

      1. VaNavVet Avatar

        It would have been nice if Jim had just stuck to the initial report. Did you intentionally use the term “potshots” or was it an oversight?

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      We don’t have enough information to link the gun to the parent or parents.

      The kid may have found it discarded in a parking lot.

      If it has a traceable serial number, or a serial number at all, it will be surprising. Maybe forensics can lift prints that are not the child’s. If it was a semi-automatic, someone would have had to rack the slide at some point. The bullets may have prints on them.

      The kind of gun and the size/strength of the child will matter also. Not every six year old can point and steadily shoot a handgun.

      We don’t know things like that.

      1. Why would you be surprised if the gun had a serial number?

      2. killerhertz Avatar

        What are the chances the 6 year old found a random gun in a parking lot. When have you ever heard of anyone just finding a gun in public?

        This is clearly a result of neglect by the parents, if you could call them that.

        There are rumors this child is a monster, based on what he’s disclosed to the police.

      3. VaNavVet Avatar

        Fair enough. From what I have read, the child and teacher were alone in the room and close together for a conference most likely concerning behavior problems. I believe that the teacher was shot in the stomach. As for the gun, probable that additional info will be forthcoming.

      4. James McCarthy Avatar
        James McCarthy

        But….BR seemed to seek satisfaction in reporting the breaking news of the shooting and ascribing motivation to social breakdown. Now, your speculation further muddies the picture.

      5. M. Purdy Avatar

        You’ve speculated endlessly about the UVa tragedy, but now you’re concerned about jumping to conclusions in this case. Why is that?

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Here is a good discussion, relying on experts in the area about how the judicial system is likely to deal with the six-year old shooter. https://www.pilotonline.com/news/crime/vp-nw-juvenile-justice-20230108-c3xludx32ndnbosjcu4epmn3pu-story.html

    1. LarrytheG Avatar


    2. killerhertz Avatar

      Nice take, but my 6 year old understands violence and intent

  3. Lee Faust Avatar
    Lee Faust

    We need to consider the guilt and punishment of the parents. Liabilities too.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      If there is more than one parent involved in the child’s life I will be surprised.

      I will also be surprised, after all is said and done, if that parent does not sue Newport News schools for allowing her son in the building with a gun, thus destroying his life. Wait for it.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Does it count if there is a grandparent involved along with a single mother? What say you, Judge Sherlock…?

      2. killerhertz Avatar

        I’m guessing the father is nowhere to be found. Raised by a relative while the mother was working minimum jobs non-stop during lockdowns. While we likely won’t find out the truth, we should know WHAT leads children down this path. All indications point to THE STATE.

  4. Terry Dickinson Avatar
    Terry Dickinson

    a tragedy in so many ways.

  5. James Kiser Avatar
    James Kiser

    Frankly the trauma concern is over the top. Seen tv , movies and cable recently? How about video games? The amount of open sex, raunchiness, violence and general mayhem is everywhere. And people wonder why the kids are out of control.

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Fortunately, our former generations of representatives realized that 6-year old children are not always able to understand the consequences of their actions or differentiate right from wrong and therefore cannot be tried as adults, nor held in detention.

    1. If they are not always able to understand the consequences of their actions (and they aren’t), I wonder what future generations will say about our views of 6 yr olds (and other minors) and gender reassignment?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        … and the reason why it’s the parents’ responsibility…..

        1. Obviously, some parents fail in their duties.

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Mental vs. biological. Some are literally born with ambiguous genitalia. Ah, if it were just so easy.

        1. Mental vs. biological works both ways. Some would use indoctrination and peer pressure to overcome biology to the detriment of the child.

  7. I predict some will blame the inanimate object to further their agenda and avoid having to address real issues. Just a prediction.

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