Newport News school warned 6-year-old about guns 3 times, lawyer says

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — In the hours before a 6-year-old boy shot and killed his first-grade teacher in Virginia this month, school leaders warned the boy three times that he might have a gun, the teacher’s attorney said Wednesday. Including another child from the school tearfully reporting that the boy showed him the gun during recess.

Attorney Diane Toscano announced the teacher’s intention to file a lawsuit against the Newport News, Va., school district and issued a series of escalating warnings on the day of the shooting, when police said a A 6-year-old boy took his mother’s gun from the home, took it to Richneck Elementary School, and shot his teacher, Abigail Zwerner.

The shooting has rocked the community, sounded a warning about an increase in gun violence in U.S. schools and led parents and educators in Newport News to instinctively demand accountability, with the school board meeting Wednesday night to decide the principal’s fate.

A spokesman for Newport News Public Schools declined to comment on the attorney’s statement or timeline of events, citing the ongoing investigation.

On the day of the shooting, a teacher searched the boy’s backpack thinking he might have a gun, ma’am. Toscano said. No gun was found, but the teacher reported to school administration around 12:30 p.m. that she believed the boy had put the gun in his pocket before going out for a break. Instead of searching the boy, the woman said an administrator dismissed the threat, saying the 6-year-old had “small pockets,” Toscano said.

Around 1 p.m. — about an hour before the shooting — another teacher reported that a student had come to the teacher crying, saying the 6-year-old had shown him the gun during recess, And threatened that if the student told anyone, he would shoot the student, Mrs. Toscano said.

“What did the administrator do?” Mrs. Toscano said at a news conference Wednesday where she announced her plans to file a lawsuit. “Did the administrator call the police? No. Did the administrator lock the school? No. Did the administrator evacuate the building? No. Did they confront the students? No.”

A third employee asked permission to search the boy, Ms. But was told to wait because school was almost over, Toscano said.

The boy pointed a gun at the woman in the first grade classroom at around 2 p.m. in front of his classmates. Zwerner opened fire, police said.

Mrs. According to her attorney, Zwerner, 25, was shot in the chest and left a bullet in her body as her client began a long journey of physical and mental recovery.

“Three weeks ago, Abby was a cheerful young woman with a big heart and a passion for educating young people – she had a bright future and a career she loved,” Toscano said. “Today, between surgery and physical therapy appointments, she has career problems. How can she have the courage and confidence to face a class of students?”

The case, which concerns guns, mental health and public education in America, has stirred strong emotions in Newport News, where parents and staff complained to the school board last week about growing behavioral problems among students in the district and their concerns about The fear of school shootings. In September 2021, two 17-year-old students were injured in a shooting at Heritage High School; two months later, a 17-year-old was killed outside Menchville High School.

Across the country, schools are facing an increase in children’s behavioral problems and mental health challenges during the pandemic. The number of school shootings is also on the rise.

The case has also raised tensions about how schools can serve students with serious behavioral and emotional needs while supporting teachers and educating all students.

The six-year-old’s family said he was “severely disabled” and his mother or father used to go to school with him every day. The week of the shooting — just after the holidays — was the first time he attended class without his parents, the family said.

The student had previously threatened to set a teacher on fire and in one incident threw furniture and other objects into the classroom, scaring other students, The Washington Post reported. On the day of the shooting, Ms. Zwerner’s attorney said she reported to the school that the boy had threatened to beat another child.

Many questions remain unanswered, including how exactly the boy got his hands on the gun and whether the parents will be charged.

Police said the gun was legally purchased by the child’s mother. The family’s attorney, James Ellenson, said the gun was stored on the top shelf of the mother’s bedroom closet with a trigger lock on it.

Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded firearm within the reach of children under the age of 14, and the offense would be considered a misdemeanor.

“On behalf of the child’s family, we continue to pray for her. Mr. Zwerner, I wish her a full recovery,” Ellenson said in a statement Wednesday. “Our hearts go out to everyone involved.”

It’s unclear who at the school was aware of the warnings. Richneck Elementary School has been closed since the shooting, and new administrators are leading the reopening of the school.

School district officials announced plans to install metal detectors on all school buildings earlier this month, but the community quickly called for more — and demanded accountability from the top brass. The school board is scheduled to meet Wednesday night to vote to terminate the contract of Superintendent George Parker III.

At a packed school board meeting last week, parents and staff voiced their concerns — about disruptive student behavior and the need for more discipline; what they said was a culture that failed to listen to staff and families; Students who struggle with behavioral challenges lack resources; and perhaps most importantly, they worry daily about whether their children will be safe at school.

Holding back sobs into a microphone, a mother described asking her school district safety questions after last year’s shooting in Uvaldi, Texas, and describing the terror her children felt during live-fire drills at the school.

“My 7-year-old daughter said she was sitting with her head down and crying,” she said, “because she wondered if she would ever be able to hug her mom again.”

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