Former principal of Virginia school where boy, 6, allegedly shot teacher denies knowing child had gun on day of shooting
An attorney for Briana Foster Newton, the former principal at Richneck Elementary School, said on Thursday her client didn’t know that a 6-year-old student had a gun at the school the day he allegedly shot a teacher.
Newton was reassigned after the first grader allegedly shot his teacher, Abby Zwerner, inside a classroom on Jan. 6, her lawyer, Pamela Branch, said during a news conference.
In an email to CNN confirming the reassignment earlier this week, the district would not say where it was reassigning Newton.
School and district leadership have come under fire in the weeks since the shooting, with school officials leaving their posts in the face of a potential lawsuit and questions swirl over whether the shooting was preventable.
“It continues to be reported that unidentified school administrators were aware that the 6-year-old student had a gun at school on January 6 and simply failed to act,” Branch said during a Thursday news conference in Richmond, Virginia. “Newton has been assumed to be one of those administrators, however this is far from the truth.”
“The fact of the matter is that those who were aware that the student may have had a gun on the premises that day did not report this to Mrs. Newton at all,” the attorney continued.
Branch would not say who may have been informed the student had a gun that day.
This is the first statement Foster has made since the shooting, according to a news release. CNN has reached out to an attorney for the teacher and the family of the 6-year-old’s lawyer for comment.
In an email to CNN, a spokeswoman for the school district said she could not comment on whether or not Newton was made aware of a potential gun on campus as that is part of an ongoing investigation.
The spokeswoman added she could not comment on who may have been told for the same reason.
The remarks came in the aftermath of accusations from the teacher’s lawyer that several school administrators were aware the student was armed the day of the shooting.
“Over the course of a few hours, three different times — three times — school administration was warned by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people,” Diane Toscano, an attorney for Zwerner, told reporters in a news conference. “But the administration could not be bothered.”
Toscano said she planned to file a lawsuit on Zwerner’s behalf, alleging the administration “failed to act” despite having “knowledge of imminent danger.”
The shooting happened after an altercation between Zwerner and the student, who pointed the gun at her and fired a single round, Police Chief Drew said at the time.
Zwerner was critically injured when a bullet passed through one of her hands and struck her chest, police have said. The teacher has since been released from hospital.
Students resumed classes at Richneck Elementary School for the first time since the incident on Monday. The school, which announced new protocols ahead of the students’ return, had been closed since the shooting.
School and district leadership under fire
Since the shooting, the Newport News Public Schools school board voted to oust Superintendent Dr. George Parker III.
The school’s assistant principal, Dr. Ebony Parker, resigned from her post last week, a spokesperson for the school district told CNN.
Mark Garcia Sr. told CNN last week that his son is in the same class as the student accused in the shooting and has been distraught since the shooting.
Garcia said the school’s alleged failure to act is “horrifying,” adding, “The people who know about this failed us and they failed the security measures of everyone that’s inside of that school.”
After the shooting, the boy was placed under a temporary detention order and evaluated at a local hospital. He remains unidentified publicly, but his family has been releasing statements through their attorney.
On Jan. 19, the family said the boy has an “acute disability” and was receiving care at the school. A family member usually went to class with him but didn’t the week of the shooting, they said.
“We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the family statement said.
According to the family, the gun allegedly used was secured before the shooting.
The police chief has indicated the boy’s mother could possibly face charges in the shooting.
Former principal is a mother, wife
It was Newton’s first year leading the school as principal, her lawyer said Thursday.
Newton, who has been an educator for 11 years, has worked in multiple roles, from teaching third grade to serving as an assistant principal for four years.
Newton has also worked in leadership roles to “address positive behavioral interventions and behavior management in the classroom,” Branch said. She is a mother, a wife and a member of the community, her lawyer added.
Branch said “it’s very easy to demonize people you don’t know” in the midst of a tragic story. She said the former principal has received “threatening voicemails.”
Newton “will always want what’s best for the students, staff and administrators at Richneck Elementary School and wishes its new leadership a safe productive and positive remainder of the year,” Branch said.
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