Richneck School Shooting Report: 6-Year-Old’s Gun Jammed, Admin Ignored Classmates’ Warnings

A student told a teacher that the boy had a gun and had shown him the bullets but the assistant principal did not have the student searched.

Richneck School Shooting Report: 6-Year-Old’s Gun Jammed, Admin Ignored Classmates’ Warnings

Photo: Stuart Miles - stock.adobe.com

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A newly released special grand jury report highlights significant failures made leading up to and during the 2023 Richneck Elementary School shooting.

The 31-page report, dated March 11 but publicly released Wednesday, said the incident in which a six-year-old student shot his first-grade teacher was “avoidable.”

The report contains disciplinary forms filed by various school staffers as early as 2021, highlighting the student’s tendencies toward disruptive and violent behaviors. A 2021 form says the student “placed his forearms in front of [a teacher’s] neck and pulled down so hard she couldn’t breathe, choking her.” A 2022 form says the boy “held two classmates in a choke hold in a span of 10 [minutes] when asked to transition to the carpet and follow directives.”

The new report also notes questions remain regarding the whereabouts of the boy’s disciplinary records after the shooting, according to ABC News. There should have been two sets of physical records — one in the main office and one in Zwerner’s classroom — but police did not find the documents in either place when they executed a search warrant. Every other students’ files were in both locations, according to the report. When police asked about the missing files, another school administrator reportedly returned the main office file, which had been either in her home or car. The second file was never found.

Richneck School Assistant Principal Told Multiple Times About Potential Gun

The report also contains a timeline of the hours leading up to the shooting. Around 11:15 a.m., the boy’s teacher, Abby Zwerner, took him to lunch where she says he immediately showed signs of aggression and threatened to beat up a kindergarten student. Zwerner went to Assistant Principal Ebony Parker’s office to voice her concern but Parker did not acknowledge Zwerner’s presence, the report alleges.

Around 12 p.m., reading specialist Amy Kovac was told by two students that the child had a gun in his bag. Kovac entered Zwerner’s classroom and asked the boy if she could look in his backpack. When he said no, Kovac sat with him for 45 minutes during the lesson.

Kovac reported to Parker that he wasn’t acting like himself when she asked him to search his bag because “he would usually be throwing his backpack around.” Parker reportedly agreed but did not take further action.

As Zwerner’s class was lining up for recess, Zwerner said she saw the child put on an oversized jacket with a hood. He then reportedly rummaged through his backpack and put both his hands in his pockets. Zwerner texted Kovac what she had observed. In response, Kovac searched the boy’s backpack but did not find a gun. Kovac told Parker she did not find a gun in the backpack but that Zwerner said the boy wouldn’t take his hands out of his pockets. Parker did not take action, according to the report.

“The child was now at recess, with thirty-plus other small children running around the playground with a firearm tucked into his jacket,” the special grand jury wrote.

While at recess, the boy also reportedly kept running behind a rock wall with his friend where teachers could not see them. After recess, first-grade teacher Jennifer West asked the friend what was happening. The friend, who was “visibly scared and shaking,” told West that the boy would hurt him if he told her. The student then said the boy had a gun and had shown him the bullets. West then called someone who was covering the receptionist’s lunch. The man told Parker who allegedly responded that the backpack had been searched.

West then had counselor Rolonzo Rawles come to her class and speak with the friend. Around 1:40 p.m., Rawles went back to Parker and said the child either had a gun or ammunition. When he asked if he could search the student’s person, Parker allegedly said no.

“Per the school’s written policy in the school administration manual, Principals and school security officers under the direction of the school administrators may search students and students’ property when there’s reasonable suspicion to do so,” the report notes.

At 1:58 p.m., the student shot Zwerner in the chest as she sat at a reading table. The child attempted to fire the gun a second time but it jammed. The weapon had a full magazine with seven additional bullets.

Richneck Principal, Assistant Principal Closed Office Doors After Shooting

Immediately following the shooting, the grandmother of a student who was in the building ran to Parker and said someone had been shot. Parker allegedly went into her office and closed the door until the police arrived. The receptionist called 911 and issued a lockdown order over the PA system. The principal, Briana Foster, also allegedly closed her door as the grandmother and a young student remained in the hallway.

“After knocking on the Principal’s door saying there was a child out in the main room and both Dr. Parker’s and Ms. Foster’s door remained shut, the Grandmother comforted the boy by telling him she won’t let anything happen to him and to go hide in a place where no one can find him,” the report says.

In the meantime, Zwerner had walked from her classroom and into the main office where she passed out in front of Foster’s door. The report says Foster opened the door, saw Zwerner, and shut the door again.

“The SGJ will note that there were some contradictions in the testimonies as to the above noted proceedings in the main office and as to who was involved,” the report notes. “However, this Grand Jury finds that the most credible testimony was that Dr. Parker and Ms. Foster acted in the manner described above.”

The 11-member grand jury ultimately indicted Parker on eight counts of felony child neglect for failing to act. Parker turned herself in Wednesday and was released shortly after on a $4,000 bond.

Additional Richneck School Shooting Report Findings

The report outlines additional alleged safety and security failures, including:

  • First responders were able to promptly enter the school because the front door buzzer system had been broken for weeks
  • There were no doors on the second-grade classrooms
  • There was no consistent school resource officer at any time and staff had no phone number to contact an SRO in case of an emergency
  • Not every teacher had a walkie-talkie or consistent means of communicating with each other or the front office
  • The emergency button was not working in each classroom
  • Administrator kept “secrets” from the parents of the other children in Zwerner’s class regarding the student’s behavior

“Had this been an active shooter situation, the unaddressed security issues at Richneck for the 2022-2023 school year would not have only guaranteed possible success, it would have guaranteed a probable massacre as many more children and faculty would have been seriously injured or fatally wounded,” the report states. “The lack of oversight and care by key administrative staff in charge of Richneck regarding the obvious lack of security could have brought on unspeakable tragedy just because no one cared enough to ensure s safe learning environment for the students attending Richneck Elementary.”

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About the Author

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Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

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2 responses to “Richneck School Shooting Report: 6-Year-Old’s Gun Jammed, Admin Ignored Classmates’ Warnings”

  1. Christopher Richmond says:

    Gross negligence meets depraved indifference.

  2. Bob Brown says:

    This is the district that also believes a teacher being shot while at work is a standard worker’s comp injury… This district’s stance is that teachers should expect to occasionally be shot by their students, even if the student is only 6 years old.

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