A 6-year-old first-grader at an elementary school in Newport News, Va., shot a teacher on Friday afternoon during an altercation in a classroom, the authorities said, leaving her with “life-threatening” injuries and renewing calls for greater gun restrictions.
The boy, who shot the teacher once with a handgun at about 2 p.m., was in police custody on Friday evening, Steve Drew, the chief of the Newport News Police Department, said at a news conference.
He added that the teacher, a woman in her 30s, was taken to a local hospital and that her condition had slightly improved by late Friday afternoon. It was not immediately clear how the first-grader got the gun.
The superintendent of Newport News Public Schools, Dr. George Parker, said at the news conference that “we need to keep guns out of the hands of our young people.”
Photos and video taken immediately after the shooting at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News on Friday showed the chaos that had ensued as officers swarmed the school’s brick building: children appeared afraid and confused, parents stood beside crime scene tape and dozens of officers patrolled the area.
Trannisha Brown, whose 11-year-old son, Carter Jackson, is a fifth-grader at Richneck, said in an interview that shortly after the shooting, she received a frightening call from her son.
Carter, she said, sheltered on the floor of his classroom with his friends after they heard gunfire.
“It shook me up hearing those kids crying and going frantic,” said Ms. Brown, 32. “All they knew was that there was a shooter in the school and they didn’t know where the shooter was.”
She stayed on the phone with Carter, trying to comfort him. “You are going to be all right,” she recalled telling him.
At the news conference, Chief Drew said that school officials had worked quickly to bring all of the students and teachers to the school’s gymnasium, and that the authorities had been in touch with lawyers to determine how to best proceed.
“I cannot control access to weapons,” Dr. Parker said. “My teachers cannot control access to weapons.” He added, “Today our students got a lesson in gun violence and what guns can do to disrupt not only an educational environment, but also a family, a community.”
Dr. Parker said school would be closed on Monday “as we work on the mental health of our staff and our students.”
The shooting in Newport News, a city of more than 180,000 people, about 70 miles southeast of Richmond. Va., stunned officials as they began to investigate what had gone wrong inside the school.
“I’m in shock, and I’m in awe, and I’m disheartened,” Dr. Parker said.
The mayor of Newport News, Phillip Jones, said at a news conference that while the shooting was “still raw” the city was taking steps to ensure that something similar did not happen again.
Curtis Bethany, a councilman for the city, said Newport News was dealing with “unchartered” territory. “I’ve never heard of a 6-year-old going to school with a loaded gun.”
Incidents at schools involving a shooter so young are exceptionally rare.
David Riedman, who founded the K-12 School Shooting Database after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in 2018, has compiled data on every school shooting — anytime a firearm has been discharged on school property — dating back to 1970. He found 16 cases involving shooters under the age of 10.
Three of them involved 6-year-old children. Two of those were ruled accidental shootings: One in 2011 at an elementary school in Houston in which a student had a gun that went off, injuring three people; and another in Mississippi in 2021, when a first-grader shot a fellow student with a gun he had brought to school and was playing with. In the third case, which attracted national attention, a 6-year-old boy shot and killed a young girl as the teacher was lining up students in a hallway.
According to Mr. Riedman’s research, there has been only one shooting at a school that involved someone under 6 years old: a kindergartner, aged 5, shot a gun in the cafeteria of his school in Memphis, Tenn., in 2013. No one was injured.
The violent episode in Newport News underscored the persistent threat of gun violence at schools across the country. In May, a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 children and two teachers dead. In September, another school shooting in Oakland, Calif., left six injured.
The president of the Virginia Education Association, Dr. James J. Fedderman, said in a statement that he was “saddened that we must respond to another school shooting here in Virginia.”
Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, said: “We send all of our hopes for a full recovery to the educator injured in yet another horrific act of gun violence in our schools. But today we are again discussing the carnage of another school shooting. This will not stop until elected leaders take consequential action and stand up to the gun lobby to prevent gun violence in our communities and school.”
Dr. Parker said that while district schools have “metal detection capability,” the schools do not make children walk through a metal detector every day.
“If we have a perceived threat, or an issue, we administer random metal detections on those days,” he said.
Still, he emphasized that guns appear on campus because of “access in the community.”
“This is not a Newport News problem,” he said. “It’s a bigger and broader problem than what we’re seeing today.”
Christopher Mele, Tim Arango and Leah Small contributed reporting.