School where 6-year-old shot teacher set to reopen

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Heavy security and a new school administrator will be on hand as students return to the Virginia elementary school where a 6-year-old boy shot and killed his teacher a few weeks ago.

Richneck Elementary School in Newport News was set to reopen on Monday, more than three weeks after the Jan. 6 shooting. Police say the boy brought a 9mm handgun to school and intentionally shot his teacher, Abby Zwerner, while she was teaching her first grade class. The 25-year-old teacher was hospitalized for almost two weeks but is now recovering at home.

The shooting sent shockwaves through Newport News, a city of about 185,000 people known for its shipbuilding industry. It also raised nationwide questions about school safety and how a child so young could gain access to a gun and shoot his teacher.

A few days after the shooting, the Newport News School Board announced that metal detectors would be placed in all schools in the district. In Richneck, two metal detection systems have been installed and two security guards have been assigned to the school, said Michelle Price, a school district spokeswoman. Prior to the shooting, a security guard was assigned to Richneck and another elementary school. The officer was not at Richneck at the time of the shooting.

Security guards will also have a hand-held metal detector wand, Price said. New doors were installed in classrooms that did not have them, while other doors were repaired or replaced, she added.

The principal and vice-principal both quit their jobs after the shooting, and a new administrator was appointed to run the school as part of a staff reshuffle.

Karen Lynch, who worked as the editor of Newport News for 17 years, said in a letter to the Richneck families last week that she was now working “on a special assignment” at Richneck. Lynch said the emotional support services that have been provided to students, families and staff by support specialists, social workers and licensed therapists will continue after the school reopens.

School superintendent George Parker, who came under heavy criticism from parents and teachers after the shooting, was fired by the school board last week. Parker said at least one school administrator was made aware the boy may have brought a gun to school. He said the boy’s backpack was searched, but no weapon was found.

Zwerner’s attorney, Diane Toscano, said on the day of the shooting, concerned Richneck staff warned administrators three times that the boy had a gun and was threatening other students, but the administration did not did not call the police, remove the boy from class or close the school.

Police say the 9mm handgun was purchased legally by the boy’s mother. In a statement released through their lawyer, the boy’s family said the weapon was “secure”. Attorney James Ellenson told The Associated Press he understands the gun was in the mother’s closet on a shelf more than six feet high. and had a trigger lock that required a key.

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