Carilion psychiatrist provides insight after police say Virginia 6-year-old shot his teacher

ROANOKE, Va. – After a school shooting in Virginia where police say a six-year-old intentionally shot his teacher, the same question keeps being asked: how could this happen?

10 News spoke with a local psychiatrist to get answers to that question on the minds of parents across the Commonwealth.

It’s a tragedy some are still trying to wrap their heads around and 25-year-old teacher Abby Zwerner is still recovering.

Dr. Robert Trestman is the psychiatry and behavioral health chair at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. He says it may all be in the environment.

“If violence and the use of guns and the use of violence is a way of dealing with conflict, then that’s what that child will think is appropriate,” Trestman said.

Trestman also says that at such a young age, it’s likely the child did not fully understand what would happen.

“A 6-year-old child is not going to understand adult interpretation or consequences,” Trestman said. “They don’t really understand life or death.”

Last year more than 300 unintentional shootings by children resulted in over 133 deaths, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. The preliminary investigation revealed that the shooting was not an accident, but Trestman is skeptical.

“It’s all too easy for us to jump to a conclusion that this is an evil child who is malignant and a predator, we know nothing about that,” he said.

He says for children of that age, coping with emotions is a difficult task — especially when it’s not modeled in a healthy way at home.

“They also need as part of a core education to learn how to manage conflict,” he said.

Trestman says there are ways to step in before something happens.

“As with everything, it’s a question of at what point do you intervene?”

He says signs that a child is not doing well can include constant irritability and getting in fights.

“If we have the resources in our schools to recognize it, to refer, to get into active treatment, we can really make a difference in the lives of so many children,” he said.

Trestman recommends therapy for children who show these signs, or who are dealing with the lasting effects of trauma.

About the Author

Abbie Coleman officially joined the WSLS 10 News team in January 2023.

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