Virginia Teacher Abby Zwerner Was Shot in the Chest by 6-Year-Old Student as She Instructed Class: Cops

Teacher shot
Abby Zwerner is a teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia.Facebook

Virginia elementary school teacher Abby Zwerner suffered life-threatening injuries in the shooting, but is in stable condition, authorities said.

Virginia elementary school teacher Abby Zwerner was shot by a 6-year-old student as she addressed her first-grade class, police said Monday at a press conference.

The 25-year-old was instructing her students when one of them pulled a handgun from his backpack, pointed it at her and fired one round on Friday afternoon, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said. Zwerner put her hand up in a "defensive position" and the little boy pulled the trigger, Drew said.

The bullet went through her hand and into her chest, the police chief said. "She is a trouper. She is a hero," Drew told reporters. Though wounded, Zwerner was able to get her charges out the door and down a hallway, he said. "She was the last person to leave that room," he said. "She saved lives that day."

Zwerner made it to the administration office, where she collapsed, police said. 

The 9 mm Taurus handgun had been legally purchased by the boy's mother, the chief said. The shooting was not an accident, Drew said, "It was intentional." He declined to discuss a motive, saying he had no idea what was going through the boy's head. "He's a 6-year-old child," Drew said.

The child had slipped his mother's loaded weapon into his backpack and taken it to school, police said. The boy's parents are still being questioned by detectives, Drew said. Their names have not been released.

No students were injured. Another school employee entered the class and restrained the boy, who struck her one or two times, the chief said. Officers took custody of the child and placed him in a patrol car, Drew said.

He is now being evaluated at a mental health facility and officers, children's services workers, prosecutors and medical professionals are currently discussing what should be done after that evaluation is completed, the chief said.

Drew said he spoke to Zwerner over the weekend, and on Monday. He praised her devotion. The first thing she asked, he said, was about her kids.

"Do you know how my students are?" Drew quoted her as saying. "She was worried about them. She again asked me today," the chief said.

Earlier, parents had said Zwerner was trying to take the weapon away from the child when she was wounded. The chief did not address that detail Monday, but "there was no physical altercation," he said. 

“She was going to confiscate it, and that’s when he shot,” mom Brittaney Gregory, whose son was in the class, told The Washington Post.

Zwerner was shot just before 2 p.m. at Richneck Elementary School. Officers responded within minutes, Drew said. 

Gregory said her son now suffers nightmares. “He normally sleeps in his own room, but the night of the shooting he came into my room. He was talking in his sleep, saying 'We got to get out of here!'" she told the Post.

Gregory said she planned to take her child to a therapist, the paper said.

Another parent said that after the teacher was shot, she screamed at her kids to "run away," dad Steve Gonzalez told Fox News. The school immediately went into lockdown, police said.

It will remain closed this week while mental health counselors work with students and staff, the police chief said Monday.

Zwerner was described as a dedicated teacher who often left encouraging notes in her students' backpacks.

John Eley III, a former school board member and current city councilman, said the instructor came from a family of teachers.

"The family was all educators and said she was excited about doing the job," Eley said. "The custodians and other teachers spoke about how she's a good teammate, she's a team player, she loves her children, she's just an all-around good teacher," he said.

Virginia law does not allow a 6-year-old to be tried as an adult, or to be committed to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice. 

School district president George Parker said Monday that officials would have to re-evaluate security measures at their elementary campuses. All current precautions are designed to keep an adult from coming onto school grounds and opening fire, he said.

"Who would imagine a 6-year-old bringing a loaded weapon to class and shooting his teacher?" Parker said. 

Related Stories