NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- At a candlelight vigil in Newport News on Monday night, teachers, parents and students gathered together and called for peace and healing for 25-year-old Abby Zwerner, a beloved first-grade teacher who was allegedly shot by her student while teaching a class on Friday afternoon.
"She is sweet, she is thoughtful, she is caring and she's one of the most amazing teachers I've been blessed to interact with," said a fellow teacher.
In the aftermath of Friday afternoon's shooting at Richneck Elementary School, at the alleged hands of a six-year-old student, there have been feelings of disbelief and anger.
"We as a society are failing our teachers and our students by not offering them a safe place to work and learn," says Newport News PTA Council President Michele Ordeen.
At a press conference earlier Monday afternoon, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew described Friday's shooting, detailing the moments when the first-grade student took a 9mm handgun out of his backpack and allegedly aimed at his teacher and fired.
Police said the gun was legally purchased by the child's mother in York County, but it’s unclear how the gun got into the child’s hands.
"She took a defensive post, where she raised her hand and the round went through her hand, exited the rear of her hand and went into her upper chest," Drew said.
Zwerner was in critical condition but has been upgraded to stable condition and is expressing gratitude for all the love and support she’s received from around the country.
Drew met with Zwerner on Monday and noted how her first concern is still for her students, just as it was on Friday afternoon when she yelled for her students to run from the classroom.
"She was the last person to leave the class. She made a right turn and started down the hallway and then she stopped and she turned around. She turned around to make sure every one of those students was safe," Drew said.
"That's a teacher. That's what we do and she definitely has a teacher's heart," said a Newport News teacher who attended Monday’s vigil.
While police continue their investigation, Drew says the department is consulting with the Commonwealth Attorney’s office to determine if charges will be filed against any of the child’s family members. The child remains in the hospital in the protective custody of state officials while he is being evaluated.
"We're going to have to work together, not fight each other, but work together," said Newport News Public Schools Superintendent Dr. George Parker.
Parker says a hotline has been established to help members of the school community who need assistance. Mental health services are being provided to the entire school district and safety protocols are also being reviewed.
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