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Assistant principal is indicted in connection with shooting done by 6-year-old

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We're learning this week about new developments in a shocking case from last year in Virginia, where a 6-year-old boy shot his teacher. The boy's mother was already prosecuted, but now a former assistant principal faces criminal charges. NPR's Martin Kaste joins us now to talk about this case and whether it's part of a broader trend to charge adults when kids use guns. Hey, Martin.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So, first, can you just tell us more about these charges against this former school administrator?

KASTE: Sure. Yeah. Yesterday we got our first look at a report by a special grand jury that they set up there to investigate the shooting. And this report is really critical of the school's administration in general. It says the boy had a history of violence and shouldn't have been in that classroom. But they came down especially hard on this former assistant principal, Ebony Parker. The report says she was warned three times that day that the boy might have a gun by staff and students, but she failed to act. And the report says Parker showed, quote, "complete disregard for the safety of all the children," unquote, in that class. Under Virginia's child neglect law, this grand jury says that was a crime.

CHANG: Wait. These are felony charges, right? Like, how common is it to charge a school staff member for a shooting by a student? Has this happened before?

KASTE: Well, the lawyers I've talked to say they can't think of another case that's quite like this. You do see parents charged with neglect when their child finds a parent's gun at home and plays with it, and someone gets shot. In this case, in Virginia, the boy's mother has already been sentenced to two years for felony child neglect. But what's striking here is how dramatic and high-profile this case has been and the fact that there were so many warning signs which were ignored. And you have to remember that this comes after the sentencing of Jennifer and James Crumbley in Michigan, the parents of that teenage boy who also gave out clear signs of impending violence before he shot and killed four students at his high school. The parents there got 10 to 15 years in prison for what their son did. And I think some people are linking these two cases. They're finding a trend there that prosecutors are now looking to charge responsible adults who ignore warning signs like this.

CHANG: But is that true? Is there truly a trend going on here?

KASTE: Well, it depends on who you talk to. In the gun rights world, there is some concern here. I talked to Michael Hammond. He's the legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, and he thinks prosecutors are trying to make an example of some of these people.

MICHAEL HAMMOND: It does represent an effort by prosecutors, and by particularly prosecutors in liberal jurisdictions, to discourage individuals from keeping guns where they would have access to it for self-defense of their selves and their families.

CHANG: Wait. But just to be clear, Martin, were the Crumbleys or the boy's mother in Virginia found guilty of violating firearms laws?

KASTE: No. These are mostly not gun charges in these cases. The mother in Virginia did plead guilty to one federal count of using marijuana while owning a gun. But she got more prison time on state child-neglect charges. In Michigan, too, the Crumbleys were found guilty of manslaughter. And the prosecutor in that Crumbley case, Karen McDonald, was here on this show on Tuesday.

CHANG: Right.

KASTE: And she was really clear that she doesn't want this case that she's just completed seen as a model for charging parents for what their kids do with guns. I should also say that gun control advocates are being careful here not to read too much into these two cases. I called Nick Suplina. He's the senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. And we talked about whether other adults, like teachers, have to worry now about being charged when a kid uses a gun.

NICK SUPLINA: I think these are both rather extreme examples of failure to act. And I don't think it necessarily heralds a new day for teachers needing to be concerned. But again, it does underscore the fact that we can all do something to protect our kids.

KASTE: But Suplina also adds here that the best way to prevent these situations, to his mind, are laws that penalize gun owners who fail to secure their guns properly around children or keep them out of kids hands. About half the states have some version of these laws. Everytown would like to see more of them pass them. And, of course, this is just the kind of law that groups like Gun Owners of America see as a potential threat.

CHANG: That is NPR's Martin Kaste. Thank you, Martin.

KASTE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.