Six year old shoots elementary school teacher

Taylor Greenwood, Entertainment Editor

On Jan. 6, a teacher was shot and wounded by her 6-year-old student after an altercation in her classroom at Richneck Elementary School in Virginia. 

Although authorities will not reveal what the altercation was, or who the student involved was, the incident occurred in the populous city of Newport News. The school, Richneck Elementary School, has around 550 students from kindergarten to fifth grade. During class, the perpetrator, a 6-year-old boy, shot his first-grade teacher Abigail Zwerner, a 25-year-old woman, through her hand and into her upper chest. It was later revealed by police that the gunshot was “not an accident”, and completely intentional. And while the teacher suffered a severe, otherwise life-threatening injury, she recovered later that afternoon. 

Currently, police are unsure how the boy acquired and used the 9mm Taurus handgun in the first place. In an interview, the family’s attorney James Ellenson released a statement saying that the gun was legally bought by the parents, and kept on the top shelf (over six feet high) in the mother’s bedroom closet. The family is confused about how the boy was able to remove the trigger lock that kept the gun from firing, but that they “didn’t know the precise mechanism of the lock”. 

Whether to charge anyone in the family, though, for failing to store the gun, is undecided by the police. “Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children,” said the family in question. “The firearm our son accessed was secured.” No further statements were released on the topic, and authorities refused to comment on how “secure” the gun really was, stating an ongoing investigation. 

But charging or indicting the kid responsible will be difficult. Virginia law presumes that children under the age of seven are too young to intend to commit a crime, and doesn’t allow them to be tried as adults. And even if found guilty, the boy is too young to be sent to juvenile detention. A juvenile judge, however, would have the authority to revoke his parent’s custody and put the child in the responsibility of the Department of Social Services.

But Thursday, Jan. 20, the family revealed something intriguing: the little boy had an “acute disability”. Although they didn’t reveal the exact disability, when asked whether it was intellectual or behavioral, they replied “all of the above”. Their statement admitted that the boy actually belonged to a care plan that included his parents accompanying him to class everyday, but the week of the shooting happened to be the first week they were not in class with him. The parents close the statement with the line,“We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives.”

Further on the child, it seems that his , most likely due to the disability, had been worrying his teacher, the victim, for weeks. According to messages obtained from other teachers, Abigail Zwerner repeatedly asked her administrators for help and warned them about the child, and yet they repeatedly downplayed all of her claims. Even when Zwerner received a note from the child saying that he wanted to “light her on fire and watch her die” and brought it to the Richneck officials’ attention, she was disregarded and told to drop the matter. Also, on another occasion, the boy threw furniture and other items around the classroom, forcing the other children to under their desks. The dates of these incidents have not been revealed, but according to the statement they made, the parents should have been in class with the boy because of his “care plan”. The family has yet to comment on this, as well as the principal and vice principal of the school.

When reporters did a little more digging, they discovered that the Richneck officials faults don’t end there. Reported by the Washington Post, when other kids behaivour problems arised, administrators ignored them too. The special education classes are on strained resources, and struggle to keep up with their workload. And shown by this incident, security at the school is lackluster. 

Apparently, before the shooting, the school had received over the course of a few hours a total of three tips that the boy had a gun, the first from Zwerner, when the boy threatened a student, the second from another teacher who said she saw the boy put the gun in his pockets, and the third when another child said the boy showed him the gun and threatened to shoot him with it if he told anybody. But administration didn’t call police, remove the boy from class or even lock down the school. And according to AP News, security didn’t even search the boy, a separate teacher took it upon herself to search his bag. She was the same teacher who tipped administration that the gun was in the boy’s pockets. Diane Toscano, an attorney for Zwerner, says “The administrator downplayed the report from the teacher and the possibility of a gun, saying — and I quote — ‘Well, he has little pockets,’”

Thomas Britton, the father of a student of Zwerners, said that administrators mishandled the incident, saying that security should have been involved—should have pulled the boy out of class and conducted a more thorough search. “Not only did he bring the weapon, but somebody gave a tip he had the weapon,” the father said. “It seems to me [the shooting] would be completely avoidable at that point.”

As a result of the lack of administrative actions, a large staff shake-up occurred the following month. School district superintendent Georger Parker III was fired in a 5-1 vote by the school board with a severance pay two years worth of his former base salary. The assistant principal Ebony Parker has resigned, and although the principal Brianna Foster Newton still works in the district, she can no longer continue her work as a principal. The previous principal’s new position has not yet been revealed.

Zwerner has been recovering at home since, and although she plans to sue the school board for the way they handled the tips of and actual shooting, it is unknown yet whether she will return to her job. 

The boy’s family said in a statement he is in a hospital receiving treatment and was expressing regret for the shooting. “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 statement goes on. “We thank her for her courage, grace and sacrifice.”