School board to decide fate of superintendent after 6-year-old shoots teacher in classroom
Written by ABC Audio All Rights Reserved on January 25, 2023
(NEWPORT NEWS, Va.) — A Virginia public school system is set to decide the fate of its superintendent on Wednesday evening, after police say a 6-year-old student brought a gun into the classroom and intentionally shot his teacher.
The Newport News School Board has called a special meeting for Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET to vote on a separation agreement with Newport News Public Schools Superintendent George Parker III and the appointment of an interim superintendent.
Parker has been under fire from teachers, parents and community members since Jan. 6, when a first-grade student allegedly shot and wounded 25-year-old teacher Abigail Zwerner in a classroom at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, a shipbuilding city near Virginia’s coast. The boy, who has not been named publicly, allegedly took a handgun from his home, put it in his backpack and brought it to school that day before shooting his teacher in an “intentional” act, according to the Newport News Police Department.
Police said Zwerner was giving class instruction that afternoon when the student pointed the gun at her and fired one round. The teacher took a defensive position, raising her hand. The bullet went through her hand and into her chest, police said.
There was no physical struggle or fight, according to police.
After Zwerner was shot, she ushered all of her students out of the classroom. She was the last person to leave the room, police said.
About 16 to 20 students were in the classroom at the time of the shooting and none of them were physically injured, according to police.
Police said responding officers found a school employee physically restraining the 6-year-old suspect in the classroom. The boy allegedly hit the school employee before officers took him into custody. He was subsequently taken to a local hospital for evaluation, police said.
Since then, a temporary detention order has been obtained and the child is currently receiving treatment at a medical facility, according to police.
Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew has called Zwerner a “hero” who “saved lives.” He told reporters that the teacher has repeatedly asked how her students are doing.
Zwerner was released from Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News last week and will continue to receive outpatient treatment, according to Riverside Health System.
Zwerner’s attorney, Diane Toscano, is expected to hold a press conference at 11 a.m. ET to provide updates on the teacher’s recovery, new information about the shooting and what their next steps will be, according to Hampton ABC affiliate WVEC-TV.
The investigation into the incident, including a motive, is ongoing and no one has been charged so far. Richneck Elementary School has remained closed in the meantime.
The 9 mm Taurus pistol used in the shooting was legally purchased by the boy’s mother, according to police.
Parker, the superintendent, told a town hall meeting with parents earlier this month that the student’s backpack was searched at school the morning of Jan. 6, after someone reported he may have had a weapon. The person who searched the backpack didn’t find a weapon, according to Parker. It was unclear who conducted the search or how the tip about the weapon was received.
When asked for comment, a police spokesperson told ABC News: “We have determined through our investigation that a school employee was notified of a possible firearm at Richneck Elementary before the shooting occurred. The Newport News Police Department was not notified of this information prior to the incident. I cannot release any further information at this time because of the ongoing investigation.”
Earlier this month, Newport News School Board Chair Lisa Surles-Law said they have been given approval to purchase 90 walk-through metal detectors, which will be installed in every school across the district, starting with Richneck Elementary School. The district will also bolster protocols on handling school violence, including implementing a safety stand down and reviewing student conduct and discipline records, according to Surles-Law.
The unnamed family of the boy released a statement last week, saying the “firearm our son accessed was secured” and that he “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 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 family said. “Since this incident, our son has been under hospital care and receiving the treatment he needs.”
The boy’s family called the shooting “horrific” and noted that they “have been cooperating with local and federal law enforcement to understand how this could have happened.”
“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,” they added. “She has worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son. We thank her for her courage, grace and sacrifice.”
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