Newport News 6-year-old who shot his teacher was violent throughout the year before, attorney says
In a letter alerting the Newport News School Board to intended legal action, the attorney for the teacher shot by her 6-year-old student makes alarming new claims about the incident.
Those claims include that administrators of Richneck Elementary School were warned several times about the student’s behavior and weapon on the day of the shooting. The letter also claims that the student had previously committed violent acts on campus.
The shooting happened around 2 p.m. on Jan. 6. Police have said the child drew a 9-millimeter handgun while 25-year-old Abby Zwernor was teaching a first-grade class.
He fired once, hitting her in the hand and upper chest, according to Police Chief Steve Drew.
In the Jan. 24 letter to the School Board, Zwerner’s attorney Diane Toscano said the school district’s response “will shed light on how it views its teachers.”
“It is my hope that the school district will not want to drag Ms. Zwerner through litigation after the trauma she has sustained,” Toscano wrote. “I hope that the school district will not send a message that being shot while teaching a lesson in class by a student is merely a hazard of the job.”
She also called the administration’s actions “evidence of bad faith and reckless conduct.”
The document lays out several of those alleged actions, starting with the day of the shooting.
The following account is taken from Zwerner’s notice of intent to file a lawsuit.
In the late morning of Jan. 6, Zwerner went to the office of Assistant Principal Ebony Parker to alert her that the 6-year-old “seemed more ‘off’ than usual and was in a violent mood.”
The student threatened to beat up a kindergartener and “angrily stared down” the lunch room security officer.
A different teacher was notified the 6-year-old shooter had a gun in his backpack and searched the backpack, finding nothing.
Toscano’s letter says the teacher was aware the student had taken out the gun and put it in his hoodie before recess – but that Assistant Principal Parker claimed his pocket would be too small to hold a gun.
Parker “should have called police, instead she did not follow proper protocol and chose to do absolutely nothing,” Toscano wrote.
After recess, two other teachers and a guidance counselor learned about the 6-year-old having a gun and asked Parker if they could search him again. Parker said no because the shooter’s mother was arriving to pick him up soon.
The shooting happened about 45 minutes later.
Zwerner told Toscano warnings about the student started at least a year before, when he was removed from school after choking a teacher “until she couldn’t breathe.”
In the fall, he was put on a modified schedule after repeatedly cursing at staff and chasing children on the playground while trying to whip them with his belt.
He’d been suspended just the day before the shooting because he slammed and broke Zwerner’s phone and cursed at guidance counselors, the notice of intent says.
“It is a miracle that more people were not harmed,” Toscano wrote.
Though Zwerner’s physical condition is improving, she said, “the psychological scars will be lasting.”
Zwerner has not yet filed a lawsuit acting on the claims.
Parker resigned from her position shortly after the notice was sent to the School Board.
The board then fired Superintendent George Parker — no relation — on Jan. 25, the day after Toscano sent the letter.
A lawyer for former Richneck Principal Foster-Newton claims her client was never warned that a student might have brought a gun to school.
Last month, the family of the 6-year-old shooter released a statement that said the child suffers from an "acute disability" and was under a care plan with Richneck Elementary School that allowed one of his parents to attend class with him every day.
"We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives," the family wrote in the statement, released through their attorney, James Ellenson.
Newport News spokesperson Michelle Price has declined to confirm that such a care plan exists for this or any student.
Richneck reopened for classes last week.