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Lawyer: Virginia school administrators were warned 3 times in the hours before 6-year-old shot his teacher

Posted at 11:26 AM, Jan 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-26 05:26:31-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The lawyer for 25-year-old Richneck Elementary School teacher Abby Zwerner, who police said was shot by her 6-year-old student on Jan. 6, said school administrators were warned three times about the student's behavior and the student potentially being armed hours before the shooting happened.

Virginia Beach-based attorney Diane Toscano held a press conference Wednesday morning with the first public statement made about the shooting from anyone related to the teacher since it happened.

The statement was full of bombshell allegations against Richneck school administrators, including that Zwerner herself had reported the student threatened to beat up another student the morning of the shooting but officials "could not be bothered."

Toscano also said another teacher took it upon herself to search the boy's backpack after it was suspected he had a gun and told an administrator they believed the boy hid it in his jacket pocket before going outside to recess. The administrator allegedly responded, "well, he has little pockets."

A third teacher allegedly went to administrators after their student said the 6-year-old showed the other student the gun at recess and threatened to shoot him if he told on him.

A fourth teacher who had heard about the incidents with the student asked administrators if he could search the boy for the gun, but was denied and told to wait the situation out because the school day was almost over, Toscano said.

It was about an hour later that the shooting happened.

"This tragedy was entirely preventable if the school administrators responsible for school safety had done their part and take an action when they had knowledge of imminent danger. But instead, they failed to act and Abby was shot," said Toscano.

She said she notified the Newport News School board she plans to file a lawsuit on Zwerner's behalf.

Diane Toscano 02.jpg
Diane Toscano, an attorney for Abigail Zwerner, on January 25, 2023.

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew has repeatedly characterized the shooting as “intentional,” saying the boy aimed at Zwerner and fired one round, striking her in the hand and chest. Zwerner was hospitalized for nearly two weeks but is now recovering at home, a hospital spokesperson said.

Superintendent George Parker III has said that at least one administrator was told on the day of the shooting that the boy might have had a weapon, but no weapon was found when his backpack was searched.

Police have said school officials did not tell them about that tip before the shooting, which happened hours later.

The boy’s mother legally purchased the gun used in the shooting, police said. The boy’s family said in a statement last week that the gun was “secured.” The family's attorney, James Ellenson, told The Associated Press that his understanding was that the gun was in the woman’s closet on a shelf well over 6 feet (1.8 meters) high and had a trigger lock that required a key.

The family also said in its statement that the boy has an “acute disability” and was under a care plan “that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day.” The week of the shooting was the first when a parent was not in class with him, the family said.

The Newport News School Board will hold a special meeting Wednesday evening to vote on a separation agreement and severance package for Parker, according to a posted agenda. The board is also scheduled to vote on a new interim superintendent.

"The school and community are living the nightmare. All because the school administration failed to act," said Toscano. "Were they not so paralyzed by apathy they could have prevented this tragedy."

Abby Zwerner's attorney Diane Toscano on Newport News school shooting

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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