After 3 Weeks and a Flood of Details, Va. School Shooting Grows More Unthinkable

The incident becomes more difficult to comprehend, but new details continue to emerge, which the police in Newport News, Virginia, almost immediately deemed intentional, since the shooting on January 6th.

Despite receiving at least three warnings, the school board failed to intervene when the first-grade teacher, Abigail Zwerner, allegedly injured a 6-year-old student whose mother legally purchased the weapon. As a result, the district’s superintendent terminated the teacher’s contract on Wednesday night. It is particularly concerning that this incident occurred, considering the possibility of criminal charges.

Authorities stated that Zwerner, a 25-year-old individual, sustained a gunshot injury when a bullet pierced through her hand and entered her chest. Law enforcement officials did not provide any specific information regarding a confrontation between the young boy and his teacher; however, a fellow classmate informed The Washington Post that Zwerner was shot after attempting to seize the firearm. Police reported that despite her injuries, she managed to guide over 15 other children to safety before receiving medical attention. Zwerner’s attorney mentioned that a bullet is still embedded in her body, but she was discharged from the hospital on January 20th despite her initial critical condition.

In the aftermath of the shooting, the ongoing debate over gun control takes a disturbing turn and twists as we recap the events that encompass the safety of schools and support for the mental health of students, attracting national attention.

Updated information, chronological order of occurrences

During the Wednesday news conference, lawyer Zwerner revealed that the boy, who had been shown a gun during recess, shrugged off requests to search his pockets. Furthermore, it was reported that the student might have been armed, as school leaders had warned employees at least three times before the teacher shot his first-grade student hours later.

The chronological order that attorney Diane Toscano presented is as follows:

According to Zwerner, the school administrator, Toscano, did not take any measures to follow up or remove the child. Zwerner informed the administrator that the 6-year-old student had made a threat to physically harm a fellow classmate at some point between 11:15 and 11:30 a.M.

The boy’s administrator purportedly stated, “Possesses small compartments,” while disregarding the danger. Prior to going outside for recess, the 6-year-old had concealed the firearm in his pocket, as another teacher, who had inspected the child’s backpack for a weapon and discovered nothing, believed. At 12:30 p.M., One hour later, the teacher notified the administrator.

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Soon after 1 p.M., A third-grade teacher informed the administration that a child tearfully confessed that a classmate had threatened to shoot him and showed him a gun during recess.

Toscano stated that the employee requested consent from school administrators to conduct a search on the young boy, but was refused and instructed to wait as the school day was nearing its end. Subsequently, a different employee approached school leaders, seeking permission to search the boy.

Toscano stated that the child fired a gunshot at Zwerner approximately one hour later.

Walkie talkies seen through a side door at Richneck Elementary School the day after the shooting. (Jay Paul/Getty Images)

Based on a court ruling from 1990, when two students report to school officials that a student is in possession of a firearm on school premises, it can be considered reasonable grounds for conducting a search. In accordance with federal legislation, school personnel are authorized to search a student if they have “reasonable suspicion,” which is a less stringent requirement compared to the probable cause needed by law enforcement when searching individuals.

According to NBC’s report on Wednesday, the Virginia teacher sent a text message expressing her frustration to a close family member or friend, stating that one of her students was in possession of a weapon and that her school administration was not taking appropriate action. The specific recipient of the text message and the exact content of the message were not disclosed by the news outlet.

A spokesperson for Newport News Public Schools declined to comment and noted that the district’s investigation into the incident is still ongoing.

The shooter’s relatives, however, referred to the shooting as “horrific” and on Wednesday issued a statement via their attorney, James Ellenson.

Ellenson expressed, ‘Speaking on behalf of the child’s family, we persist in our prayers for Ms. Zwerner and hope for her swift and thorough recuperation.’ ‘To everyone affected, we extend our heartfelt sympathy.’

Legal consequences

On Wednesday, Toscano said that officials could have prevented the shooting but failed to act, Zwerner plans to sue the school district.

The teacher did not specify the date of the incident. The school administration was alerted when a student informed them about the teacher’s desire to see her death and set her on fire because he hated her. On one occasion, the boy wrote an anonymous note to the teacher, claiming that he wanted to be a teacher and downplayed the disturbing behavior. The events occurred on January 6, but school officials appeared to downplay them, even after more disturbing behavior from the student in the following weeks.

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The identity of the boy, who neither his parents nor he himself know, appears to be known by several reporters and educators interviewed. Outside the open doors from across the hall, a teacher forced the doors open, trapping an educator and students inside a classroom. On a separate occasion, the boy threw other classroom items and furniture, forcing his classmates to hide under their desks, according to the teacher. On another occasion.

The family’s lawyer stated on January 19th that their 6-year-old child has an acute disability and is currently receiving intensive care at his school.

The family described a unique situation with the school, stating that their son, who was attending school for the first time the week of the shooting, had been accompanied by either his mother or father in class every day to assist with his disability, as he did not have a parent present.

“We will forever lament our nonattendance on this day,” the family expressed.

The child is currently receiving treatment at a medical facility after police took him into custody and obtained a temporary detention order.

According to CNN, it is highly unlikely for a 6-year-old to be convicted or charged with a crime in Virginia because young children are considered incapable of understanding the legal proceedings or forming criminal intent. However, Virginia is one of the 24 states in the U.S. That does not have a minimum age requirement for prosecution.

Despite the absence of any charges in relation to the shooting, juvenile justice specialists in Virginia suggest that the child’s guardians might face potential legal consequences.

The lawyer, Ellenson, stated that the family’s firearm had a trigger lock and was stored on the top shelf of her bedroom closet. The Taurus 9-mm pistol used in the shooting was the mother’s. This is a misdemeanor crime punishable by law, as it is prohibited in Virginia to leave a loaded firearm accessible to children under 14.

David Riedman, the creator of the K-12 School Shooting Database, informed The 74 that the individual who possessed the firearm did not fulfill their duty as a responsible gun possessor. Consequently, in the event that a 6-year-old child injures someone at a educational institution, it is primarily due to the fact that a child of that age is incapable of purchasing a firearm from a store.

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Modifications to the school policy

On February 1st, the Newport News school board made the decision to terminate the contract with its superintendent, George Parker III, amidst increasing pressure from members of the community. The vote resulted in a 5-1 majority in favor of the termination.

Board member Douglas Brown stated, “There is a potential need for a new direction, and we are aiming for the division and board to become more safety-oriented and focused on disciplined students.”

According to local reports, Karen Lynch, a principal with 17 years of experience in the district, has resigned as the assistant principal at Richneck Elementary. She has left the school and is currently leading the reopening of the school, as stated in a message sent to community members.

In order to become familiar with the premises again, the school extended an invitation to students and families for a two-hour transition period on Wednesday, which was non-instructional. Students are scheduled to come back to campus on Monday, Jan. 30.

The school’s website states that it is providing sessions with licensed therapists or school social workers for families or students seeking emotional support. However, when I called the number listed, the voicemail went on Thursday at 74, and no staff offered appointments for the soonest available time.

The school district’s Chairman of the school board, Lisa Surles-Law, said earlier in January that the district would purchase 90 walk-through metal detectors to be installed in all 45 schools within the district, which would be the first time such detectors are used in Richneck Elementary School’s approximate student population of 26,600.

Within a span of 17 months, the latest occurrence of gun violence on the premises of Newport News Public Schools was the third incident. The 74 inquired about the presence of metal detectors for the reopening on Monday, however, the district chose not to address the inquiries.

Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones, who took office Jan. 1, met with President Joe Biden in the days after the shooting at Richneck Elementary School. (Mayor Phillip Jones/Twitter)

What comes after this?

Newport News is a medium-sized oceanside city located on the Chesapeake Bay, which is home to several military bases and the nation’s largest military shipbuilding company. Approximately half of the students who attend the district’s school are Black, while the remaining students are a mix of Asian, Latino, and white, with about a quarter being white. Lunch is provided at a reduced price or for free for qualifying students.

In the city that, until weeks ago, was most renowned for constructing submarines and supercarriers, numerous inquiries still linger.

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