A Virginia teacher who was shot by a disabled six-year-old pupil texted a loved one an hour before she was wounded to say the boy was armed and school officials were failing to act, a source has revealed.
Abbey Zwerner, 25, had just finished reading a story when the child pulled out the handgun and shot her in the chest at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News on January 6.
A source close to the investigation told NBC that Zwerner had texted a loved one showing she was ‘frustrated because she was trying to get help with this child, for this child, and then when she needed help, no one was coming.’
Zwerner’s lawyer Diane Toscano held a bombshell press conference Wednesday announcing a lawsuit, alleging that the school administration was told three times by staff members that the boy had a gun on him that day.
Another teacher had also warned that the six-year-old held left a boy sobbing after showing him the gun – and threatened to shoot him if he told anyone.
Abbey Zwerner, 25, had just finished reading a story when the child pulled out the handgun and shot her in the chest at at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News on January 6
Police vehicles are seen parked outside Richneck Elementary School in Newport News on January 6
Crowds of concerned parents gathered outside the school following the shooting
At around 12.30pm, a teacher had told the administration that she searched the boy’s backpack and told them she believed the child had concealed the gun in his pocket.
Administrators are alleged to have responded, ‘Well he has little pockets’.
A fourth teacher asked if he could search the child’s backpack and he was denied, Toscano told the press conference.
Zwerner also went to school authorities earlier that day to report the six-year-old had threatened to beat up another student.
Toscano announced that her client, who still has the 9mm bullet from the shooting lodged inside her body, is suing Newport News Public Schools.
She added that Zwerner – who was discharged from hospital last week – is communicating with her daily, recovering and gaining strength every day.
When asked about Zwerner’s text to her loved one prior to the shooting, Newport News Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Price told NBC that any claims were being ‘thoroughly investigated.’
Price said: ‘Anything that has been reported to our school leadership team in regards to concerns at Richneck from teachers and staff members is part of the investigation. It’s being thoroughly investigated.’
The family of the child – who has not been identified – last week put out a statement claiming the firearm used had been ‘secured’ and that one of his parents usually accompanied him in class but did not the week the shooting occurred.
The family’s statement was released by an attorney and did not elaborate further on where the 9mm handgun was kept. The family was not identified.
‘Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children,’ the statement said. ‘The firearm our son accessed was secured.’
The family also said that the boy ‘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 family said 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 statement was the first from the family since the shooting and was released through the office of Newport News-based attorney James S. Ellenson.
The teacher has been hailed a hero in the local community
Police said earlier that the six-year-old’s mother legally purchased the gun but that it was unclear how her son gained access to it.
A Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to a child under 14, a misdemeanor crime punishable with a maximum one-year prison sentence and $2,500 fine.
A spokesman for Riverside Regional Medical Center said last Thursday that Zwerner had been released from the hospital earlier in the week.
The statement read: ‘(Zwerner) continues her recovery as an outpatient with the support of family, friends, and health professionals. The Zwerner family respectfully asks for privacy during this time.’
In the wake of the statement from the family of the six-year-old, a former psychologist with Newport News Public Schools told WAVY that warning signs among students with ‘explosive behaviors’ were regularly ignored.
The psychologist told the station: ‘These issues had persisted, and it had escalated to a point where it had put a teacher in danger.’
She added: ‘Issues are swept under the rug because it’s easier to think that there’s no problem when there is a problem that needs to be addressed.’
Richneck Elementary was due to remain closed throughout this week with school administrators reportedly working to ensure the school has a full-time security guard and metal detectors.
The tentative reopening date for the school is January 25. Students may be required to have see through backpacks going forward.
At a school board meeting last Tuesday that was open to the public, the parent of one of the students who was in the classroom when the shooting occurred, Desiree Yvette, said her daughter is traumatized following the shooting.
A crowd of parents waited outside Richneck Elementary School after the shooting where the six-year-old allegedly shot his teacher on purpose after an ‘altercation’
Zwerner, pictured at her 2019 graduation, suffered life-threatening injuries
Yvette said: ‘She’s 6, she’s terrified because the person who was advocating for her got hurt.’
In an interview with 13News Now, Yvette added: ‘I was scared for any of the kids to have had witnessed this, but I was more scared that my daughter was witnessing this.’
The mother referred to Zwerner as a ‘hero’ for her actions.
She continued: ‘She has always said those are her kids. It was heartbreaking and it was the most brave thing I’ve heard. She is honestly an earth angel. She’s the kindest person. She’s so supportive of her students.’
No charges have been brought against the mother, but the investigation continues, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said during one of two Facebook live chats he held with the community Wednesday.
During the first chat, the chief was asked at least twice about whether the boy’s parents would be held accountable or the mother charged. Drew responded by saying he wanted to ensure detectives were able to conduct a thorough investigation.
‘I am not going to rush them,’ Drew said. His department has a great relationship with local prosecutors, he said, and he has ‘tremendous faith’ that ‘they will make the right decision based on the evidence that they have in front of them.’
Investigators have nearly finished interviewing the children who were in the classroom, Drew said, and police are working with a psychologist to talk to them about what they saw.
‘This is a unprecedented incident that we have had in our city, where a 6-year-old child obtained a firearm, brought it to school, pointed it, fired and shot his teacher in front of other students,’ the chief said. ‘I have a young teacher who suffered a gunshot wound while teaching her classroom. By the grace of God, she´s still with us today.’
The statement from the boy’s family also elaborated on the child’s relationship with his teacher, who is still recovering from the gunshot wound and has been called a hero by police and educators alike.
‘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,’ the family said.
‘She has worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son,’ the statement continued. ‘We thank her for her courage, grace and sacrifice. We grieve alongside all of the other teachers, families and administrators for how this horrific incident has impacted them, our community, and the nation.’
The family said the child has been under hospital care since the shooting and is receiving ‘the treatment he needs.’
‘We continue to pray for his teacher´s full recovery, and for her loved ones who are undoubtedly upset and concerned,’ the family said. ‘At the same time, we love our son and are asking that you please include him and our family in your prayers.’
The shooting occurred as Zwerner was teaching her first grade class at Richneck.
Authorities said there was no warning and no struggle before the boy pointed the gun at Zwerner.
Drew, the police chief, described the shooting as ‘intentional.’ A judge will determine what´s next for the child.
The superintendent of Newport News schools revealed last week that Richneck administrators had learned the child may have had a weapon before the shooting. But a search did not find the handgun, despite staff looking through his bag.
The revelation fueled outrage among parents and particularly teachers. Many criticized school system administrators at a school board meeting Tuesday night for what they called a misguided emphasis on attendance and other education statistics over the safety of children and staff.