Newport News School Officials Warned 3 Times That 6-Year-Old Brought Gun to School: Wounded Teacher's Attorney

Abby Zwerner
Abby Zwerner.GoFundMe

Officials at the elementary school where a 6-year-old "intentionally" shot his teacher were warned the boy was dangerous and had a gun, the instructor's attorney said.

On the day a first-grade teacher was shot by her 6-year-old student, school officials were warned three times the boy was dangerous and had a gun, including by a crying student who said the child had shown him the weapon at recess, an attorney for the critically wounded instructor said Wednesday.

Attorney Diane Toscano detailed a chilling timeline of the events on Jan. 6, when 25-year-old teacher Abigail Zwerner was shot in the chest by the boy who had brought his mother's handgun to school. Toscano told reporters at a Newport News, Virginia, press conference she planned to file a lawsuit against the school district on behalf of her client, who is struggling with life-changing injuries.

“On that day, 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. But the administration could not be bothered,” Toscano said.

One of those teachers was Zwerner, the lawyer said.

On the day of the shooting, Zwerner first went to an administrator at around 11:15 a.m., saying the boy had threatened to beat up another child, but nothing was done, Toscano said.

At around 12:30, another teacher went to school officials, saying she had searched the boy's backpack for a gun, but believed the child had placed it in his pocket before going out to recess, Toscano said. 

“The administrator downplayed the report from the teacher and the possibility of a gun, saying — and I quote — ‘Well, he has little pockets,'"Toscano said.

At around 1 p.m., about an hour before the shooting, another teacher told an administrator that a crying student had reported the boy showed him the gun during recess and threatened to shoot him if he said anything, the attorney said. No action was taken, she said.

A fourth employee asked an official for permission to search the boy and was denied, the attorney said. “He was told to wait the situation out because the school day was almost over,” Toscano said.

Zwerner was shot about 2 p.m., when the boy pointed the gun at her and pulled the trigger as she put her hand up, police said. The bullet entered her hand and then lodge in her chest, critically wounding her, authorities said.

The shooting was "intentional," police said at the time.

A school district spokesperson declined comment Wednesday.

"Since the school division’s investigation is ongoing, I cannot comment on the statements presented by Ms. Zwerner’s lawyer at this time," Michelle Price, the district's director of public information and community involvement, told Inside Edition Digital. 

Zwerner is "in between surgeries and physical therapy appointments with a career in question," Toscano said of her client. The teacher is at home and recuperating, she said.

"The road to full recovery will be long and as her physical condition improves, the psychological wounds cut deeply and remain fresh," Toscano said.

An attorney representing the boy's family said last week the mother's legally purchased handgun had been "secured." The lawyer also said the child had an "acute disability."

He released a statement from the family that said, "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," read the statement. "She has worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son." 

No decision has been made about charging the boy with a crime, authorities said. He has been hospitalized in a mental health facility since the incident.

The school district postponed classes at Richneck Elementary after the shooting. On Jan. 17, in a letter posted on the school district's website, Superintendent George Parker III wrote,"I truly understand that our entire school community is impacted in some way. Therefore, while my immediate focus will remain with Ms. Zwerner, the staff and the families of Richneck Elementary students."

A special school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday to vote on the approval of a separation agreement and severance with the superintendent, according to the meeting's agenda. Parker has been sharply criticized by teachers and parents since the shooting earlier this month.

It is the third shooting on school district property, following 2021 shootings at Heritage and Menchville high schools.

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