NATIONAL NEWS

Elementary school to remain closed to give students ‘time to heal’ after 6-year-old allegedly shot teacher

Jan 9, 2023, 10:21 AM
Students and police gather outside of Richneck Elementary School after a shooting, Friday, Jan. 6, ...
Students and police gather outside of Richneck Elementary School after a shooting, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023 in Newport News, Va. A shooting at a Virginia elementary school sent a teacher to the hospital and ended with “an individual” in custody Friday, police and school officials in the city of Newport News said. (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
(Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

(CNN) — An elementary school in Virginia will be closed this week to give students “time to heal” after a 6-year-old boy allegedly shot and injured a teacher there Friday, the school announced.

Less than a week into the new year officers swarmed the Richneck Elementary campus in Newport News — which still had a “Happy New Year” sign outside — and took the child into custody.

The boy shot the teacher in a classroom and it was “not an accidental shooting,” Police Chief Steve Drew said. The boy remained in police custody as of Friday.

Before the gunfire, there had been an altercation between the teacher and the student who had the firearm, Drew said. A single round was fired and no other students were involved, he added.

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

The teacher, whose injury was initially described as life-threatening, was listed in stable condition by Saturday, according to the Newport News Police Department.

The teacher was first identified by her alma mater, James Madison University, as Abby Zwerner.

The elementary school had an emergency plan in place that allowed for immediate medical care for the injured teacher, Newport News Public Schools Superintendent George Parker said.

“While no amount of planning can guarantee that a tragedy such as this will not occur; please know that our collective efforts and preparation resulted in immediate medical care for our faculty member, no injuries to students, and a safe and efficient reunification process for our families and students,” Parker said.

The school does not have a resource officer assigned to it, district officials told CNN on Monday. Only middle schools and high schools have a resource officer on campus, the district said, while elementary schools have security guards who do not carry weapons.

Richneck Elementary shares a security guard with a neighboring school, and the district could not tell CNN which school the guard was when the shooting happened.

The district also could not tell CNN if there were any disciplinary actions against the 6-year-old prior to the shooting.

As the investigation continues and police probe how the young boy gained access to a firearm and what led up to the shooting, community members are grappling with what happened.

“It’s a very difficult thing to process,” Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones told CNN on Sunday. “The fact that we have a 6-year-old individual with the ability to bring a gun into school and harm his teacher — something that we’re still grappling with.”

The mayor would not comment on the child’s family or their involvement with the investigation.

“There’s a lot of questions that we have to answer as a community,” the mayor added. “Up with, how a 6-year-old was able to have a gun, know how to use it in such a deliberate manner … The individuals responsible will be held accountable. I can promise that.”

‘We were doing math’

Shootings in US schools have become far more common than they are in any other country. In 2022, there were at least 60 shootings at K-12 schools, according to a CNN analysis.

After Friday’s shooting, students at the school described the harrowing moment the lockdown was called. “We were doing math … an announcer came on, she was like, ‘Lockdown, I repeat lockdown,'” said fifth grader Novah Jones, who was not in the room where the shooting happened.

“I was scared … it was like my first lockdown and I didn’t know what to do, so I just hid under my desk like everybody was.”

Novah at first believed there was a man with a gun at the school, she said in a CNN interview with her and her mother.

“I was thinking that … a man was going to shoot us,” Novah said.

Parents hurried to the scene as news spread of the shooting, living through a nightmare families of students at so many other American schools have shared.

When Mark Anthony Garcia found out about the shooting, he raced to the school, where his son is in second grade.

“There was police helicopters everywhere outside, traffic was jammed up,” he told “CNN This Morning” on Monday. “Then there was a 2-mile radius cordoned off of parked cars and people running, trying to actually get to the scene.”

Garcia’s son, Mark Jr., said his teacher heard the shooting and shepherded his class back to their classroom, “and then when we got there, we all stayed quiet.”

“Two people were crying,” he said. “And when the cops came, we were marching to the gym.”

Following the shooting, all students at the school were evacuated from their classrooms with their teachers and taken to the gymnasium, where they were with counselors and officers, the police chief told CNN affiliate WTKR.

Though she was able to return home safely, Novah said she had trouble sleeping that night, worried that “he still had the gun and he was going to come to my house.”

“I had like flashbacks,” Novah said.

Licensed therapists are available to help parents with tips for talking with children, counseling services and resource referrals, Richneck Elementary said in an update on its website.


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Elementary school to remain closed to give students ‘time to heal’ after 6-year-old allegedly shot teacher