Superintendent: School officials knew 6-year-old boy may have a gun before Newport News teacher was shot

Posted at 11:17 AM, Jan 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-14 09:00:07-05

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Administrators at the Virginia school where a first-grader shot his teacher last week learned the child may have had a weapon in his possession before the shooting but did not find the 9mm handgun he brought despite searching his bag, the school system's superintendent said.

Michelle Price, a spokesperson for the Newport News school district, said Superintendent George Parker said during an online meeting with parents Thursday night that at least one school administrator was notified the boy may have a weapon before the 6-year-old shot the teacher at Richneck Elementary in Newport News.

“The student's bookbag was searched at that point, after it was reported that he may have a weapon. Nothing was found in the backpack,” Price said Friday.

Parker's comments were first reported by WAVY-TV. The online meeting was for parents only, but WAVY-TV reported the station gained access to the meeting from a parent.

Police Chief Steve Drew has previously said the boy brought the gun to school in his backpack the day of the shooting.

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Price said she has not been told where school officials believe the gun was when the boy's backpack was searched.

“That probably is definitely part of our internal investigation and the police investigation, but nothing about that has been released publicly," Price told The Associated Press.

She declined to comment when asked who reported that the boy may have a weapon and whether school officials should have taken additional steps after the weapon was not found in his backpack.

Newport News Police Department spokesperson Kelly King said in an email Friday that investigators determined a school employee was notified of a possible gun at the school before the shooting. King said police were not given that information before the shooting.

The teacher, Abigail Zwerner, 25, was shot in the chest with injuries initially considered to be life threatening. Her condition has improved, though, and she has been reported in stable condition at a hospital.

Earlier Thursday, Newport News School Board Chair Lisa Surles-Law said the district will install metal detectors at all schools, starting with Richneck.

The Jan. 6 shooting occurred as Zwerner was teaching her class. Authorities said there was no warning and no struggle before the 6-year-old boy pointed the gun at Zwerner.

Drew has described the shooting as intentional. A judge will determine what’s next for the child, who is being held at a medical facility following an emergency custody order.

Drew said the child used his mother’s gun, which had been purchased legally. It’s unclear how he gained access to the weapon. A Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to a child under 14 as a misdemeanor.

The online meeting was for parents only but WAVY-TV reported the station gained access to the meeting from a parent.

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