Teacher allegedly shot by 6-year-old warned Newport News school officials child had a gun, her lawyer says
Abby Zwerner, the teacher who was allegedly shot by a 6-year-old at an elementary school in Newport News, Virginia, warned school administrators the day of the shooting that the child had a gun, according to her lawyer.
“Abby and these other teachers at Richneck Elementary School tried to do the right thing on January 6,” attorney Diane Toscano said in a news conference Wednesday, alleging administrators were warned three times over the course of a few hours that “the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people.”
“But the administration could not be bothered,” Toscano said, telling reporters she intends to file a lawsuit on Zwerner’s behalf.
“This tragedy was entirely preventable if the school administrators responsible for school safety had done their part and taken action when they had knowledge of imminent danger,” Toscano said. “But instead they failed to act and Abby was shot.”
CNN has reached out to the school district for comment on Toscano’s claims, which come the same day the Newport News school board is planning to vote on whether to oust the district’s superintendent following the shooting nearly three weeks ago.
A 6-year-old boy was taken into custody January 6 after he brought his mother’s legally purchased gun to the school in his backpack and shot his first grade teacher, Abby Zwerner, police said at the time.
Zwerner, 25, was initially in critical condition and later stabilized before being released from the hospital after a bullet went through her hand and into her chest inside her classroom. Police have said the shooting was intentional.
Since the shooting, the school board has had several meetings, including a heated one last week where members faced backlash from parents. The school board also met in a closed discussion Tuesday after which they decided to host a special meeting Wednesday.
Members are slated to discuss — and likely approve — in Wednesday’s meeting a separation agreement and severance with Superintendent George Parker III, according to the agenda posted on the school board’s website.
Board members are also planning to discuss the appointment of an interim superintendent.
CNN has reached out to Parker’s office for comment.
The school will reopen January 30, nearly a month after the shooting, school officials confirmed to CNN in an email earlier this week.
During the intense board meeting with parents on January 17, emotions were high as frustrated parents spoke about the fear and anxiety their children have been enduring since the gun violence. At least one parent called on the superintendent’s position to be reevaluated.
“Why did it take negative national attention before you took this seriously and actually reevaluated?” the parent asked. “I think it’s time the citizens and parents of Newport News who did not elect you to reevaluate your services as our, our superintendent.”
The shooting came as America continues to grapple with the ubiquitous issue of gun violence permeating many public spaces around the country.
The shooting at Richneck Elementary was the first of 2023 at a US school, according to a CNN analysis. In 2022, there were 60 shootings at K-12 schools, the CNN analysis shows.
Still, school shootings by a suspect so young are very rare.
There have been three other cases in which the suspect was as young as 6: in 2000, 2011 and 2021, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, which has tracked shootings in American schools since 1970.
Student suffers from acute disability, family says
The shooting at the elementary school happened after an altercation between the teacher and the student, who pointed the gun at the teacher and fired a single round, said Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew.
“There was no physical struggle or fight,” Drew said at the time, adding no other students were involved.
The boy was placed under temporary detention order and was evaluated at a local hospital.
Nearly two weeks after the shooting, the boy’s family released their first statement, expressing praise for the teacher.
“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,” the family said in the statement released through attorney James Ellenson.
The family pointed out their son suffers from a disability, and he was receiving care at the school.
“Our son 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 family statement says.
The family also said the gun allegedly used was secured before the shooting. They said a family member usually went to class with him, but not the week of the shooting.
“We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the family statement said.
Meanwhile, the police chief has indicated the boy’s mother could possibly face charges in the shooting.
“And at the end of the day, when that’s all compiled together and the facts and what the law supports, the Commonwealth’s attorney will make the decision if there are any charges forthcoming … towards the parents,” Drew said.
Under Virginia law, it’s a misdemeanor for an adult leaves a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a way it could endanger a child under the age of 14. It is prohibited for a person to unknowingly allow a child under the age of 12 to use a firearm.
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