The family of a six-year-old boy who shot and wounded his teacher have said they have always been committed to responsible gun ownership and that the weapon he used had been "secured".
Abigail Zwerner, who is still recovering from the gunshot wound and has been described as a hero by police and educators alike, was released earlier this week from Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, Virginia.
The 25-year-old teacher was shot in the chest by the pupil at Richneck Elementary School on 6 January, with her injuries initially feared to be life-threatening. But she is now continuing her recovery as an outpatient with the support of her family, friends and health professionals.
Meanwhile, the family of the child released a statement on Friday revealing he suffers from an "acute disability" and that he is usually accompanied in class by a parent.
"Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children," the statement read.
"The firearm our son accessed was secured."
The family did not give further details on where the 9mm handgun was kept or what they meant by "secured".
Family 'regret' absence
The statement added that the boy "suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day".
The week of the shooting "was the first week when we were not in class with him", the family said. "We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives."
Newport News-based attorney James S Ellenson released the statement for the family, which is the first public communication from them since the shooting nearly two weeks ago.
According to police, the child's mother legally purchased the gun, but it was unclear how he gained access to it.
A Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to a child under 14 and is categorised as a misdemeanour crime, punishable with a maximum one-year prison sentence and $2,500 (£2,027) fine.
Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said no charges have been brought against the mother, but the investigation continues.
When asked whether the boy's parents would be held accountable over the incident, Mr Drew said he wanted to ensure detectives were able to conduct a thorough investigation without rushing, describing the shooting as "an unprecedented incident".
At the time, authorities said there was no warning or struggle before the shooting, which took place while Ms Zwerner was teaching her class.
Teacher 'worked diligently' to support the family
The statement from the boy's family also elaborated on the child's relationship with Ms Zwerner, saying: "Our heart goes out to our son's teacher and we pray for her healing in the aftermath of such an unimaginable tragedy as she selflessly served our son and the children in the school.
"She has worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son," the statement continued.
"We thank her for her courage, grace and sacrifice. We grieve alongside all of the other teachers, families and administrators for how this horrific incident has impacted them, our community, and the nation."
They added that the child has been under hospital care since the shooting and is receiving "the treatment he needs".
"We continue to pray for his teacher's full recovery, and for her loved ones who are undoubtedly upset and concerned," the statement said.
"At the same time, we love our son and are asking that you please include him and our family in your prayers."