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California elementary student shoots himself during Zoom distance learning class

The sixth-grader had his audio and video turned off in a Zoom class with Woodbridge Elementary School during the incident.
Credit: San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office
A Lodi elementary student is dead after shooting himself during an online Zoom class.

WOODBRIDGE, Calif. — Update: 

The boy's family said Thursday that the shooting was an accident. 

A San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office spokesperson told ABC10 Thursday that the preliminary findings indicate the shooting was intentional.

Wednesday's story:

A Woodbridge Elementary School student died Wednesday after shooting himself while on a distance learning Zoom call, the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office said.

Woodbridge Elementary School is a part of Lodi Unified School District, which started the 2020-21 school year on Aug. 3, 2020, with all students in distance learning classrooms.

Around 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 2, deputies responded to a home along the 300 block of Sterling Street in Woodbridge and found a boy with a head injury, Sandra Mendez, public information officer for the sheriff's office said.

The boy was a student in the sixth-grade. He was on a distance learning Zoom  but had his audio and video turned off. According to Mendez, the victim's sister was in another room, also in a Zoom classroom, but with her audio and video on when she heard a gunshot. The sister went into the other room to find her brother had shot himself. The sister alerted her classroom to what had happened, then rushed to a neighbor who called 911. 

The boy was rushed to a hospital, however, on Wednesday afternoon, the sheriff's office announced on Facebook the boy had died. Mendez said the gun was registered to an adult in the home. 

School Reaction

Paul Warren, Lodi Unified School District student support director, said the district has seen an increasing number of anxious and depressed students, as  the students' routines have been interrupted and they aren't able to socialize amid the pandemic.

Tara Niendam, a child psychologist for UC Davis, said they've also seen an increase in suicidal ideations in children, and that the kids are feeling the same stress adults are feeling during the pandemic. She said distance learning could be isolating for children who thrive on structure and social interactions. 

"All they need is one meaningful adult to talk to," Niendam said. "That needs to maybe be a teacher or a coach, and (children) don't have that person now." 

Niendam said with the public health risks of fully opening schools due to the pandemic, it's more important than ever for adults to emotionally check in on children every day. Monitor your child's changes in sleep, appetite, mood and attention span. Students may show signs of avoiding school, making negative statements about themselves, or trying to harm themselves.   

"It's easy to dismiss those things, but those are early signs that your kid is really struggling," Niendam said.

Mental Health Resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of depression or adverse mental health, check out these online mental health resources. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention hotline anytime, 24/7, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or your local county mental health crisis phone line. Additional resources are available on the National Suicide Prevention website.

Distance Learning and Mental Health Background

Though it is the best way to keep families safe during the pandemic, virtual learning has a known effect on students' mental health.

For kids who are already prone to depression or anxiety, or who are already having difficulties in their social relationships, child and adolescent psychiatrist and medical director of Uplift Family Services Dr. Mark Edelstein said in a September interview with ABC10 that distance learning is a concern, especially as academics start to become another hurdle in that child's life. 

And while the academic side is a huge point of stress, Dr. Edelstein said that is just the starting point of a larger problem that distance learning poses for young students. 

"What you're learning in school is not necessarily the content that the teacher is presenting, right?" Dr. Edelstein said. "But you learn about your role as a student and as a citizen, as a friend. You may have a mentor at school. You certainly get a lot of support if you've got good friends there."

A study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2018, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S., taking the lives of over 48,000 people. For individuals aged 10 to 34, suicide was the second leading cause of death. 

The Lodi school district said it is currently offering a school counselor to connect and talk with students during virtual learning.

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