School officials were warned three times before a 6-year-old shot his teacher, her lawyer said


On January 7, 2023 in Newport News, Virginia, a blackboard is seen wishing students a “Happy New Year.”

Jay Paul/Getty Images

Lawyers for the Virginia teacher who was shot in the chest by a 6-year-old student say school administrators were warned three times that the boy had a gun and was threatening other students.

Diane Toscano, a lawyer for 25-year-old Abigail Zwerner, said at a news conference Wednesday that on Jan. 6, the day the shooting happened at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, teachers and employees warned administrators three times that the boy had pointed a gun at him and threatened other students.

“That day, over the course of a few hours, three different times, the school board was alerted by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had a gun pointed at him at school and was threatening people,” Toscano said. “But the administration didn’t care.”

Toscano went on to say the tragedy was “entirely preventable” and claimed school administrators failed to act when they knew there was imminent danger.

The first time administrators were alerted, Toscano said, was around 11:15 a.m., when Zwerner told a school administrator that the 6-year-old had threatened to beat up another child.

“They didn’t call security, they didn’t take the student out of class, and the school administration didn’t do anything,” Toscano said.

Then, around 12:30 p.m., Toscano said another teacher went to a school administrator and told them she had taken it upon herself to search the bookbag of the boy suspected of bringing the gun to school.

“The teacher then tells that same clerk that she thinks the boy put the gun in his pocket before going out for recess,” Toscano said. “But the administration didn’t care.”

“The administrator downplayed the teacher’s report and the possibility that a gun would say, and I quote, ‘Well, he has small pockets,'” she said, adding that school administrators did not call police over a report of a possibly armed student. . “This is outrageous. … The school administrator has failed to take action and protect the school.”

Shortly after 1 p.m., Toscano said a third teacher told administrators about a boy who cried in terror after the 6-year-old suspect showed him the gun during recess and threatened to shoot him if he told anyone.

“Did the administrators call the police? No. Did the administrators lock down the school? No. Did the administrators evacuate the building? No,” Toscano said.

“When a fourth employee who learned of the danger asked the administrator for permission to search the boy, he was refused,” the lawyer added. “He was told to wait for the situation because the school day was almost over.”

Zwerner was shot almost an hour later.

Richneck Elementary School on January 7, 2023 in Newport News, Virginia

Richneck Elementary School on January 7, 2023 in Newport News, Virginia

Jay Paul/Getty Images

Superintendent George Parker III did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but previously told the The Singapore Time that at least one administrator was told on the day of the shooting that the boy may have a gun. However, a search of the backpack did not find a weapon.

On Wednesday night, the Newport News School Board voted to replace Parker amid criticism from parents and students over the shooting incident.

The board voted 5 to 1 in favor of the separation agreement and severance package, which takes effect Feb. 1, the Washington Post reported.

On Tuesday, Toscano announced that her company had sent a notice to the Newport News School Board intending to sue on Zwerner’s behalf.

“It was preventable and thank God Abby is still alive,” Toscano said. “If the principal had acted in the best interests of teachers and their students, Abby would not have suffered a gunshot wound to the chest.”

The lawyer also confirmed that Zwerner is recovering at home and is “gaining strength every day”, but that the “road to recovery will be a long one, and as her physical condition improves, the psychological wounds will cut deep and remain fresh. The psychological scars will be permanent.” .”

The Newport News police chief announced earlier this month that the gun used to shoot Zwerner legally belonged to his mother.

Last week, the 6-year-old’s family released their first public statement about the shooting, saying they were responsible gun owners.

“The firearm our son had access to was secured,” they said in a statement to BuzzFeed News through their attorney, James Ellenson.

Their son, who they said has an “acute disability”, was under a care plan where one of his parents was in his class every day. The week the shooting happened was the first week neither parent accompanied him to class, they said.

“In addition, our son has benefited from an extensive community of care, which also includes his grandparents who work alongside us and other caregivers to ensure his needs and accommodations are met,” the family said. “The week of shooting was the first week we were not in his class. We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives.”

The Newport News school board will hold a special meeting on Wednesday about the incident.

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