NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Newport News first grade teacher Abby Zwerner is “stable” and recovering after she was shot by a 6-year-old student on Friday, police say.
In a press conference on Monday, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew called the shooting unprecedented and said Zwerner saved lives that day, ushering her other students out of the classroom after being shot in the chest.
“Abigail is a trooper, she is a hero … Abigail saved lives” Drew said, who added that when he met with her the first question she asked was “do you know how my students are?”
Zwerner, an alumna of James Madison University, was in the middle of instruction at the time when the 6-year-old pulled out a 9mm handgun. Zwerner put her hand up to shield herself and the bullet went through her hand and into her chest.
“She made sure every one of those kids were out of that room. She was the last one to leave … after suffering a gunshot wound, to make sure her students … were safe,” Drew added.
Drew also praised the response from other staff members and other first responders. One unnamed school employee ran into the classroom after the shooting and was able to restrain the child until police arrived five minutes after getting the 911 call.
Drew says the gun was legally purchased in York County by the child’s mother. It’s still unclear how the student got ahold of the gun and brought it into Richneck Elementary. Drew says only one round was fired, but multiple rounds were inside the gun’s magazine. Authorities also seized a cell phone and a backpack from the scene.
The parents of the child later met authorities at police headquarters, where the child and mother were interviewed, Drew said. The child’s mother has not been charged related to the incident at this time, and the commonwealth’s attorney’s office will review information to determine if they will be filed, Drew said. Information will include the child’s behavioral record at school.
The 6-year-old student is currently receiving treatment at a medical facility, Drew said, who emphasized the shooting wasn’t accidental.
Newport News Superintendent George Parker, who also spoke in addition to newly sworn in Mayor Phillip Jones, says he’s happy to see that Zwerner is improving and the district is offering mental health support to the school community.
Parker said that the district has safety protocols and trains all employees for active shooter situations, but said “there was no way” they were prepared for a 6-year-old to shoot a teacher, again citing its unprecedented nature.
“Who would be prepared for a six-year-old to bring a loaded weapon into school and shoot their teacher?” Parker said.
Parker said the district uses metal detectors at the secondary school level, but Friday’s shooting makes them consider using detectors at the elementary school level as well. He also spoke of other measures currently in place such as video surveillance.
Parker said previously there will be no classes for Richneck Elementary from Monday, January 9, through Friday, January 13, and he’s still receiving feedback from the school community on when classes at the school should resume.
An NNPS Crisis Team helpline is set up for people to call. The number for the helpline is 757-788-0635 and it is open 24 hours.
Meals for Students
Grab-and-go meal service will be available at McIntosh Elementary School Monday through Friday from 12 to 12:30 p.m. for Richneck students affected by the shooting. Families will receive a lunch and a breakfast snack for the next day.
Personal Belonging Pickup
On Friday, not all students were able to access their coats and backpacks during parent pickup. Students who need these items may pick them up at Richneck Elementary on Tuesday, January 10, between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Students are asked to come to the front entrance of the school to gain entry.
Virtual Town Hall
Families are invited to participate in a virtual Town Hall on Thursday, January 12, at 6:30 p.m. Community members can join school division leaders to engage and share as school officials plan for students’ return to classrooms. A registration link will be emailed to all Richneck families on Tuesday.