After a 6-year-old shot a teacher in class, criticism mounts for Virginia school district as officials leave posts
By Aya Elamroussi and Dakin Andone, CNN
The fallout is widening in the Virginia school district where a 6-year-old allegedly shot his teacher in the chest earlier this month, with school officials leaving their posts in the face of a potential lawsuit amid questions about whether the shooting was preventable.
Ebony Parker, the assistant principal at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, resigned Wednesday, a district spokesperson told CNN hours before the school board voted to oust superintendent George Parker III, whose last day is scheduled for February 1. The board has appointed an interim superintendent.
Those decisions come as the district faces intense criticism following the shooting January 6, the day police have said the 6-year-old student brought his mother’s legally purchased gun to school and intentionally shot his first-grade teacher, Abby Zwerner, who survived the attack. The boy also has a disability, his family said.
Frustration over gun violence infiltrating yet another school in the US — as communities across the country endure traumatic shootings nearly every day — was compounded Wednesday when the teacher’s attorney alleged school officials were notified multiple times about the gun’s presence prior to the shooting.
“Over the course of a few hours, three different times — three times — school administration was warned by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people,” attorney Diane Toscano told reporters during a news conference Wednesday.
As the attorney announced her intent to file a lawsuit against the district, she said the administration “failed to act” despite having “knowledge of imminent danger.”
“Abby and these other teachers at Richneck Elementary School tried to do the right thing on January 6,” Toscano said. “But the administration could not be bothered.”
A school district spokesperson declined to comment on the possible lawsuit.
Zwerner, 25, was initially in critical condition and later stabilized before being released from the hospital.
The school has been closed since the shooting, with plans to return Monday. And with the first day back looming, parents like Mark Garcia Sr. are expressing their concern. His son is in the student’s class, he told CNN, and has been distraught since the shooting.
“This is a scary situation, my son is still scared,” Garcia told CNN. “He wants to go back to school, but he just wants to know that he’s gonna to be safe, and that’s the biggest thing.”
The school’s alleged failure to act is “horrifying,” Garcia said, adding, “The people who know about this failed us and they failed the security measures of everyone that’s inside of that school.”
Kasey Sypolt, the mother of a fifth-grade student at Richneck Elementary, hopes school officials will take the teachers more seriously in light of the news that administrators were warned prior to the shooting.
“Am I 100% comfortable sending him back? No,” Sypolt said of her child. “But I am hoping that the change in administration is going to make a difference, that they’re going to listen to teacher concerns and take things a little more seriously now.”
The hours leading up to the shooting
Before the shooting happened inside Zwerner’s first-grade class, there were some warning signs related to the student, the teacher’s attorney alleged in the news conference Wednesday.
Just before 11:30 a.m. that day, Zwerner told an administrator the 6-year-old had “threatened to beat up another child,” Toscano said. Administration did not remove the student from class or call security, Toscano claimed.
An hour later around 12:30 p.m., another teacher told the administrator she believed the student had put a gun in his pocket and taken it out to recess, Toscano claimed. The administrator allegedly “downplayed” the possibility, Toscano said, responding that the boy had “little pockets.”
Then shortly after 1 p.m., a third teacher told administrators that another child — described by Toscano as “crying and fearful” — had informed the teacher the 6-year-old “showed him the gun at recess and threatened to shoot him if he told anybody.”
A fourth employee then asked the administration for permission to search the boy but was denied, Toscano claimed.
About an hour later, the 6-year-old student allegedly shot Zwerner, the attorney said. CNN has reached out to the school district for comment on Toscano’s claims.
The shooting occurred after an altercation between Zwerner and the student, who pointed the gun at her and fired a single round, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said at the time.
No other students were involved and there was no physical fight or struggle, the chief said.
The boy was placed under temporary detention order and was evaluated at a local hospital.
The shooting at Richneck Elementary was the first this year at a US school, according to a CNN analysis. In 2022, there were 60 shootings at K-12 schools, the CNN analysis shows.
Boy’s family says they’re praying for teacher
The 6-year-old child remains unidentified publicly, but his family has been releasing statements through their attorney.
On Wednesday, the family said they continue to “pray for Ms. Zwerner and wish her a complete and full recovery,” the attorney told CNN in a statement. “Our hearts go out to all involved.”
In an earlier statement, the family said the boy has a disability and was receiving care at the school.
“Our son 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 statement says.
According to the family, the gun allegedly used was secured before the shooting. A family member usually went to class with him, but not the week of the shooting, they said.
“We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the family statement said.
Notably, the police chief has indicated the boy’s mother could possibly face charges in the shooting.
Under Virginia law, it is a misdemeanor for an adult to leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a way that it could endanger a child under the age of 14. It is prohibited for a person to unknowingly allow a child under the age of 12 to use a firearm.
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CNN’s Brian Todd and Aileen Graef contributed reporting from Newport News, Virginia. CNN’s Michelle Watson, Chris Boyette, Sara Smart and Dakin Andone also contributed to this report.