NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – An intent-to-sue letter sheds new light on an administrator’s alleged “failure to act” and prevent a 6-year-old student from shooting his teacher at Richneck Elementary School in January.
First grade teacher Abby Zwerner was seriously injured when her student shot her in her first grade classroom Jan. 6, according to Newport News police. Her attorney, Diane Toscano, sent Newport News Public Schools an intent-to-sue letter on Jan. 24, alleging that teachers and employees warned a school administrator three times that they believed the student had a gun.
Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said the 6-year-old got the gun from his home and that it was legally purchased in York County by his mother. In a statement, the boy’s family said the gun was secured.
The letter identifies that school administrator as “Assistant Principal Parker.” Dr. Ebony Parker, who was the vice principal at Richneck on the date of the shooting, resigned from NNPS on Jan. 25. The letter accuses Parker of failing to call the police, put the school on lockdown or evacuate students.
“This tragedy was entirely preventable if Assistant Principal Parker had done her job and acted when she had knowledge of imminent danger,” the intent-to-sue letter alleges.
Drew confirmed to 10 On Your Side that officers did not receive reports of a gun on campus before the shooting.
10 On Your Side has reached out to Parker for comment several times since the date of the shooting, but has received none.
The letter alleges that Parker was familiar with the 6-year-old shooter and his behavioral issues at Richneck dating back to his time as a kindergarten student. The letter alleges that he had been removed from the school the year prior after allegedly choking his kindergarten teacher until she couldn’t breathe.
According to the letter, the student continued to display behavioral issues while in Zwerner’s class. He was allegedly on a modified schedule in fall 2022 after he cursed at staff and took his belt off on the playground and tried to whip kids with it. He’d been suspended the day before the shooting after allegedly slamming Zwerner’s cellphone and breaking it and cursing at guidance counselors.
The letter states that Zwerner warned Parker the 6-year-old seemed “more ‘off’ than usual” around 11:15 a.m. on the day of the shooting. Zwerner also told Parker that the student threatened to beat up a kindergartner and “angrily” stared down a security officer in the lunchroom.
The letter alleges that Parker was first warned of the gun by another teacher around 12:30 p.m. on the date of the shooting. That teacher – who the letter refers to as “Teacher 2” – heard that the 6-year-old told other students he had a gun in his backpack around 11:45 a.m. Teacher 2 searched his backpack, but didn’t find anything.
Teacher 2 also allegedly told Parker that Zwerner was concerned the student had the gun on his person after she saw him remove something from his backpack and put it into the pocket of his hoodie before recess. Parker allegedly told Teacher 2 that the student had “small pockets,” insinuating that he couldn’t hide a gun, the letter alleges.
Another teacher – referred to as “Teacher 3” in the intent-to-sue letter – became aware of the gun a little after 1 p.m. when a student from Zwerner’s classroom said the 6-year-old showed it to him at recess and threatened to shoot him if he told anyone.
“The shooter spent his entire recess with a gun with a gun in his pocket, a gun that was loaded and ready to fire, with his hand in that pocket while lots of first grade students played,” the letter alleges.
Teacher 3 called the school administration office, where another teacher – Teacher 4 – picked up the phone and relayed the information to Parker. Parker allegedly told Teacher 4 that she was aware of the threat and that the 6-year-old’s backpack had already been searched. When Teacher 4 relayed Parker’s response to Teacher 3, the third teacher said they believed the gun was on the 6-year-old’s person, the letter states.
Teacher 4 went back to Parker’s office to relay Teacher 3’s concerns. A guidance counselor was already in Parker’s office, also relaying similar concerns. The guidance counselor asked if he could search the shooter’s person for a weapon, but Parker said no because the boy’s mother would be arriving soon to pick him up, according to the letter.
Zwerner was shot just before 2 p.m. as she sat at the reading table in her classroom. The alleged shooter was sitting at his desk and had the gun in his pocket, the intent-to-sue letter states.
“The administration at Richneck Elementary School showed gross negligence and willful and wanton negligence in Assistant Principal Parker’s failure to report this known threat,” the letter states. “The school administration knew as early as 12:30 p.m. that the shooter was suspected to have a gun at school. The administration did not take any steps to search the shooter or report the suspected gun to police or security.”