6-Year-Old Shoots Teacher at Newport News School

Police Chief Steve Drew said the shooting was intentional. The teacher was listed in stable condition as of Saturday.
Published: January 9, 2023

Since this Jan. 6 incident, there have been several significant updates. Here’s an outline:

  • Jan. 17: At least one Richneck Elementary School administrator was notified that the student might have had a weapon on him hours before the attack happened.
  • Jan. 26: The teacher who was shot texted a loved one before the shooting saying the boy was armed but school officials weren’t responding. She was shot an hour later. A lawsuit filed by the victim also claimed concerned Richneck school staff warned campus administrators three times that the student had a gun and was threatening other students.
  • March 10: The Newport News, Va., attorney general confirmed the boy will not be charged with aggravated assault
  • April 3: Abigail Zwerner, the teacher who was shot, filed a $40 million lawsuit against the district, claiming school administrators ignored multiple warnings that the boy who shot her had a gun and posed an imminent threat. The lawsuit reveals the boy allegedly had a history of troubling behavior, including strangling and choking a teacher, inappropriate touching of another child, chasing other students around the playground with a belt, and cursing at teachers and staff members.
  • April 10: A grand jury indicted the mother of the 6-year-old student who shot his teacher.

Many of these accusations suggest the district did not have a strong behavioral threat assessment policy in place. Here is a free on-demand webinar specific to preventing K-12 school violence through behavioral threat assessments. For additional resources on both behavioral and physical threat assessments, visit www.campussafetymagazine.com/tags/threatassessments.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A six-year-old boy is in custody after police say he intentionally shot his teacher Friday afternoon.

The victim, identified as Abby Zwerner, was shot in the chest following an “altercation” with a student in a first-grade classroom at Richneck Elementary School, reports WAVY. Zwerner was taken to Riverside Regional Medical Center for a life-threatening gunshot wound but was listed in stable condition Saturday.

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Dispatch received the first call around 2 p.m. The school was placed on lockdown for about an hour and all students were moved to the gym where counselors and officers were available. Police then assisted with reuniting students with their guardians by grade.

During a 3:30 p.m. news conference Friday, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew confirmed the boy had a handgun in his possession and the shooting was isolated to one classroom. No one else was injured during the shooting. Drew said the shooting was not accidental and that investigators are working to determine how the student got a firearm and why he shot the teacher. Police have declined to discuss what contact they have had with the student’s parents.

“We have been in contact with our commonwealth attorney and some other entities to help us best get services to this young man,” said Drew.

Brittaney Gregory, whose son was in the class, told the Washington Post that Zwerner was trying to confiscate the gun when the student fired. Steve Gonzalez, whose child was also in the classroom, told Fox News that after Zwerner was shot, she “screamed at her kids to run away” and they fled to another classroom.

School Superintendent Dr. George Parker III said the school will be closed all week and that school and law enforcement officials will assess if anything further could have been done to prevent the incident. He confirmed metal detectors are used randomly throughout the district.

“A six-year-old student with access to a weapon brought that item to his first-grade classroom. There are many concerns that we will need to unpack before we will be able to determine if any additional preventive measures would have impacted the probability of this incident occurring,” he wrote in a letter to district families and staff Saturday. “In addition to assessing our established safety procedures, we will need the support of our community to significantly reduce the likelihood of a child or young adult gaining access to a weapon.”

2022 Saw Over 300 Accidental Shootings by Children

Andrew Block, an associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and former director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, told the Washington Post that it is unlikely the boy could be prosecuted even though there is no minimum age for being charged with a crime in Virginia.

“As a practical matter, it would be next to impossible to prosecute a six-year-old, no matter how serious,” he said, citing the infancy defense which says children under the age of seven do not have the ability to form the intent to commit a crime.

However, Block said an adult could face misdemeanor charges if the gun came from the home where the child lives since state law requires guns be secured from children under 14.

According to research by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, in 2022, there were at least 301 accidental shootings by children in the U.S., resulting in 133 deaths and 180 injuries. Approximately 4.6 million children in the U.S. were living in a home with at least one unlocked and loaded gun in 2021, according to a study that used data from the National Firearm Survey.

Friday’s incident is the third shooting in 17 months within the Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) system. In Sept. 2021, a 15-year-old student fired several shots in a busy hallway at Heritage High School, injuring two 17-year-old students. The shooter was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Three months later, an 18-year-old student fatally shot a 17-year-old student in the parking lot of Menchville High School following a basketball game.

According to the district’s website, NNPS has 26,500 students at 24 elementary schools, seven middle schools, and five high schools. Richneck Elementary has around 550 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

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