Lawyer: Gun used by child who shot teacher was ‘secured’

Posted at 1:23 PM, January 19, 2023 and last updated 7:00 PM, June 5, 2023

By BEN FINLEY Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The family of a 6-year-old boy who shot and wounded his teacher in Virginia said Thursday that the gun he used had been “secured” and that one of his parents usually accompanied him in class but did not the week the shooting occurred.

The family’s statement was released by an attorney and did not elaborate further on where the 9mm handgun was kept. The family also was not identified.

Messages of support for teacher Abby Zwerner, who was shot by a 6 year old student, grace the front door of Richneck Elementary School Newport News, Va. on Monday Jan. 9, 2023. The Virginia teacher who authorities say was shot by a 6-year-old student is known as a hard-working educator who’s devoted to her students and enthusiastic about the profession that runs in her family. (AP Photo/John C. Clark)

“Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children,” the statement said. “The firearm our son accessed was secured.”

The family also said that the boy “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 said the week of the shooting “was the first week when we were not in class with him. We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives.”

The statement was released through the office of Newport News-based attorney James S. Ellenson. It is the first public communication from child’s family and comes nearly two weeks after the shooting occurred Jan. 6 at Richneck Elementary.

Police had earlier said that the 6-year-old’s mother legally purchased the gun but that it was unclear how her son gained access to it. A Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to a child under 14, a misdemeanor crime punishable with a maximum one-year prison sentence and $2,500 fine. No charges have been brought against the mother.

Police respond to a shooting at Richneck Elementary School

Police respond to a shooting at Richneck Elementary School, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023 in Newport News, Va. A shooting at a Virginia elementary school sent a teacher to the hospital and ended with “an individual” in custody Friday, police and school officials in the city of Newport News said. (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

The shooting has drawn international attention to the shipbuilding city of Newport News, which sits along the James River near the Chesapeake Bay. It has many people across the nation struggling to comprehend how such a thing could happen, while fueling an ongoing debate about how schools discipline children.

The family’s statement also elaborated on the child’s relationship with his teacher, Abigail Zwerner, who is still recovering from the gunshot wound and has been called a hero by police and educators alike.

“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.

“She has worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son,” the statement continued. “We thank her for her courage, grace and sacrifice. We grieve alongside all of the other teachers, families and administrators for how this horrific incident has impacted them, our community, and the nation.”

Residents of Newport News hold a candlelight vigil in honor of Richneck Elementary School first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner at the School Administration Building in Newport News, Va., Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. Zwerner was shot and wounded by a 6-year-old student while teaching class on Friday, Jan.6. (AP Photo/John C. Clark)

The family said the child has been under hospital care since the shooting and is receiving “the treatment he needs.”

“We continue to pray for his teacher’s full recovery, and for her loved ones who are undoubtedly upset and concerned,” the family said. “At the same time, we love our son and are asking that you please include him and our family in your prayers.”

The shooting occurred as Zwerner was teaching her first grade class at Richneck. Authorities said there was no warning and no struggle before the boy pointed the gun at Zwerner.

The bullet pierced Zwerner’s hand and struck her chest, police said. The 25-year-old teacher hustled her students out of the classroom before being rushed to the hospital.

Police Chief Steve Drew described the shooting as “intentional.” A judge will determine what’s next for the child.

The superintendent of Newport News schools revealed last week that Richneck administrators had learned the child may have had a weapon before the shooting. But a search did not find the handgun, despite staff looking through his bag.