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A teacher who was shot by her 6-year-old student in class is suing the school district

January 25, 2023, 4:40 PM UTC
Messages of support on a wall for the teacher who was shot.
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 Jan. 9, 2023.
John C. Clark—AP Images

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 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.

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.

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