NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Affected staff warned administrators at a Virginia elementary school three times that a 6-year-old boy had a gun and was threatening other students in the hours leading up to the fact that he shot and injured a teacher, but the administration “was paralyzed by apathy” and did not call the police, remove the boy from class or close the school, the lawyer said on Wednesday of the injured teacher.
Diane Toscano, attorney for Abigail Zwerner, told a news conference that she told the Newport News School Board that the 25-year-old teacher at Richneck Elementary School planned to sue the school district over the January 6 shooting, which left Zwerner with serious injuries.
“That day, within hours, three different times – three times – the school administration was alerted by worried teachers and staff that the boy had a gun on him at school and was threatening people . But the administration couldn’t be bothered,” Toscano said.
She said Zwerner first went to an administrator around 11:15 a.m. on the day of the shooting and said the boy threatened to beat another child, but no action was taken.
About an hour later, another teacher came to an administrator and said she had taken it upon herself to search the boy’s satchel, but warned that she thought the boy had put the gun in his pocket before going out for recess, Toscano said.
“The administrator downplayed the teacher’s report and the possibility of a gun, saying – and I quote – ‘Well, he has small pockets,’” Toscano said.
Shortly after 1 p.m., another teacher told an administrator that another student who was “crying and scared” said the boy showed him the gun during recess and threatened to shoot him if he did. was talking to anyone. Again, no action was taken, she said.
When another employee who had heard the boy might have a gun asked an administrator to search the boy, he was refused, Toscano said.
“He was told to wait for the situation to end because the school day was almost over,” she said.
About an hour later, “Abby Zwerner was shot in front of these horrified children, and the school and the community are in a nightmare, all because the school administration failed to act,” Toscano said.
“If they hadn’t been so paralyzed by apathy, they could have prevented this tragedy,” she said.
School district spokeswoman Michelle Price and school board president Lisa Surles-Law did not immediately return calls seeking comment on Toscano’s allegations.
The shooting raised questions about school safety and stunned Newport News, a town of about 185,000 people about 113 kilometers southeast of Richmond.
Superintendent George Parker III, who came under heavy criticism from parents and teachers following the shooting, said at least one administrator was told on the day of the shooting that the boy might have a gun, but none weapon was found when his backpack was searched. Police said school officials did not tell them about the tip until the shooting, which happened hours later.
Cindy Connell, a middle school teacher at Newport News, called the events described by Toscano “beyond horrifying.”
“This is just another example of administrators not listening to teachers’ concerns, and the only reason we’re talking about this one is because Abby Zwerner got shot,” said Connell.
“I think any director who has been repeatedly told this child has a gun, we believe this child has a gun – anyone who knew about this and did nothing should lose their job.”
Police Chief Steve Drew repeatedly called the shooting “intentional”, saying the boy had targeted Zwerner and fired a bullet, hitting her in the hand and chest. Zwerner was hospitalized for nearly two weeks but is now recovering at home, Toscano said.
“The road to full recovery will be long…and the psychological scars will be lasting,” Toscano said.
The boy’s mother legally purchased the gun used in the shooting, police said. The boy’s family said in a statement last week that the gun was “secure”. Family attorney James Ellenson told The Associated Press he understood the gun was in the woman’s closet on a shelf more than six feet high and that she had a trigger lock that required a key.
The family also said in their statement that the boy had an “acute disability” and was under a care plan “which included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every days”. The week of the shooting was the first that a parent was not in class with him, the family said.
James Ellenson, an attorney for the boy’s family, released a statement on Wednesday saying they “continue to pray for Ms Zwerner and wish her a full and complete recovery.”
“Our thoughts are with everyone involved,” Ellenson said.
The Newport News School Board will hold a special meeting Wednesday night to vote on a separation agreement and severance package for Parker, according to a posted agenda. The board must also vote on a new acting superintendent.
The school, closed since the shooting, is expected to reopen next week. Karen Lynch, a longtime Newport News school district principal, has been named an “administrator on special duty” at Richneck, Lynch said in a note to parents Monday.
Associated Press reporter Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed to this report.
For more coverage of the shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/newport-news