Virginia teacher shot by student to sue school district

Posted at 12:27 PM, January 25, 2023 and last updated 11:32 AM, January 30, 2023

By DENISE LAVOIE Associated Press

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — A Virginia teacher who was shot by a 6-year-old student during class will sue the school district, the teacher’s attorney announced Wednesday.

Diane Toscano, a lawyer for Abigail Zwerner, said Wednesday that on the day of the shooting, concerned teachers and employees warned administrators three times that the boy had a gun on him and was threatening other students, “but the administration could not be bothered.”

The marquee at the entrance of Richneck Elementary School wishes students and faculty a “Happy New Year” in 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)

The boy show Zwerner, 25, on Jan. 6 as she taught class at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, a city of about 185,000 people roughly 70 miles (113 kilometers) southeast of Richmond.

Police Chief Steve Drew has repeatedly characterized the shooting as “intentional,” saying the boy aimed at Zwerner and fired one round, striking her in the hand and chest. Zwerner was hospitalized for nearly two weeks but is now recovering at home, a hospital spokesperson said.

Superintendent George Parker III has said that at least one administrator was told on the day of the shooting that the boy might have had a weapon, but no weapon was found when his backpack was searched.

Police have said school officials did not tell them about that tip before the shooting, which happened hours later.

Attendees hold their heads down for a prayer during a vigil for Abby Zwerner, the teacher shot by a 6-year-old student at Richneck Elementary, in front of the Newport News Public Schools Administration Building on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Newport News, Va. (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

The boy’s mother legally purchased the gun used in the shooting, police said. The boy’s family said in a statement last week that the gun was “secured.” The family’s attorney, James Ellenson, told The Associated Press that his understanding was that the gun was in the woman’s closet on a shelf well over 6 feet (1.8 meters) high and had a trigger lock that required a key.

The family also said in its statement that the boy has an “acute disability” and was under a care plan “that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day.” The week of the shooting was the first when a parent was not in class with him, the family said.

The Newport News School Board will hold a special meeting Wednesday evening to vote on a separation agreement and severance package for Parker, according to a posted agenda. The board is also scheduled to vote on a new interim superintendent.

MORE NEWS