NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — In September, two students filed a lawsuit suing the Newport News School Board, former Newport News Superintendent Dr. George Parker III, Heritage High School principal Dr. Earling Hunter and the Virginia Department of Education for gross negligence.
“They were not doing anything in the face of a lot of these concerns,” Bob Haddad, the attorney representing both students, told 10 On Your Side.
The lawsuit comes nearly two years after a shooting at Heritage High School.
When shots rang out, court documents said one ninth-grade student was in honors English. She was “overcome with shock and feared for her life.” Students in her classroom ran into a corner to hide from the shooter.
According to the court documents, the student “hit her head on the wall and was elbowed by students as they piled on top of each other.”
The other ninth-grader ran into a small classroom closet. The court documents said students were crammed inside.
It caused them to elbow each other as they tried to cramp into the space. The documents said the student suffered physical injuries to her hip, head and chest.
“Both of them, for number one, (were) terrified, but number two, (were) hurt when they were herded into a small area with other kids jumping on them, pushing on them,” Haddad said.
He said the student also didn’t know what to do.
“Nobody had been given any instructions on, ‘this is what we are going to do if there is an active shooter,'” he said. “This is what you are going to do. This is what you are going to expect. It was from A to Z a lesson in how to not prepare for or handle a school shooting.”
The court documents said the student felt “helpless” because both didn’t know any safety plans or safety existed “due to the lack of school response training specific to Heritage High School.”
Another issue brought up in the lawsuit is the shooter.
“They allowed this student to come back to the school knowing he had previously been convicted of a violent crime with a weapon,” Haddad said.
Documents said he had a “violent past that involved a criminal charge of felonious malicious wounding with the use of a firearm.”
According to court documents, it said he was convicted in March 2021.
“Despite all of that, they let this child back into the school. Don’t send him to the alternative school which was available,” Haddad said.
Haddad told us the student even had an ankle monitor.
He also said Heritage High School had metal detectors that could have alerted to a firearm.
“They have covered with a sheet by the front door because they made a determination that we don’t want our kids to go through a metal detection because we don’t think it’s a welcoming school environment,” he said. “I don’t understand how they could not taken any or all of those steps to protect everyone. Sure enough, he shows up at school and gets in a fight and starts shooting people.”
All of this is why the students are suing for gross negligence for a combined $11 million.
The attorney representing the school board, Parker and Hunter, said no one knew about his violent history.
“It was an unfortunate incident but one that could not be prevented because no one at the school system had any knowledge of this child’s criminal history because they were just going back to live education as a result of COVID and he wasn’t enrolled in a normal fashion,” Richard Matthews told 10 On Your Side over the phone. “He was enrolled by his father a week after the beginning of the school year. This was only his third day of school, so no one from the superintendent on down had any knowledge that this student had a violent history. Otherwise, he would have been in an alternative placement.”
Haddad said the case was on hold, but hopes to get a court date in front a judge soon.
“We are now starting to get all the cases off the ground. The first thing we will be doing is fighting the immunity issues,” he said .“I feel confident we will get through most or not all the immunity issues for the individuals and some of the entities may fall by the wayside.”
A judge will have to decide if the case can move forward ultimately.