NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — For the first time, the family of a six-year-old accused of shooting his first-grade teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News on January 6 has issued a statement.
A spokesperson for local attorney James Ellenson confirmed to 10 On Your Side the legitimacy of a letter written on behalf of the 6-year-old’s family. She also confirmed that Ellenson is currently representing the family.
In the letter, the family began the statement by saying that they are praying for the healing of the teacher who was shot, Abby Zwerner.
“She has worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son,” said the family. “We thank her for her courage, grace and sacrifice.”
10 On Your Side reached out to Newport News Police about the letter Thursday. A spokesperson replied, “Unfortunately we are not able to verify whether this statement came from the child’s family.”
Zwerner has been hailed a hero by Newport News police after officials say she made sure her students were out of the classroom even after suffering a gunshot wound.
Zwerner’s twin sister set up a GoFundMe account to help with her recovery.
In the letter, the family stated that they have been cooperating with local and federal law enforcement. Additionally, the family says that the firearm the 6-year-old accessed was secured.
“Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children.”Excerpt from letter
Days after the shooting, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew confirmed the gun was legally purchased by the child’s mother, but he did not provide details on how the student ended up with the gun at school.
The letter also does not reveal this information.
The commonwealth’s attorney’s office will determine if the child’s mother will face charges, Chief Drew added.
At this time, no one is facing charges.
According to the family, the student is currently under hospital care and “receiving the treatment he needs.” In the letter, the family stated that the 6-year-old suffers from an “acute disability and was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day.”
On the week of the shooting, the family stated that it was the first week when they were not with the child.
10 On Your Side spoke with Keith Howard, a lawyer who specializes in student discipline and special education matters, but is not involved with this case. He said it sounds like this student qualified for what’s called an Individualized Education Program, or an IEP.
“Parents are not the experts when it comes to behaviors. If he has significant behaviors, then he should have had a one-on-one aide escorting him to school,” said Howard.
“When you have kids with complex disabilities, and every child with a disability is not the same, and we try to take a cookie cutter approach, it doesn’t work,” he said.
Richneck Elementary has been closed for nearly two weeks following the shooting.
The school announced on Wednesday, January 25, students and their families will return for an orientation to begin their transition back into the building.
Read the full statement from the family below.
Our heart goes out to our son’s teacher and we pray for her healing in the aftermath of such an unimaginable tragedy as she selflessly served our son and the children in the school. She has worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son. We thank her for her courage, grace and sacrifice. We grieve alongside all of the other teachers, families and administrators for how this horrific incident has impacted them, our community, and the nation.
We have been cooperating with local and federal law enforcement to understand how this could have happened. We have found there are no easy answers or simple explanations, but we would like to share additional facts previously unknown to the public in hopes that they may ease the dissonance we are all grappling with and prevent something like this from happening again.
Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children. The firearm our son accessed was secured.
While our son’s privacy interests are important, transparency in this matter is a valid community interest. Our son suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day. Additionally, our son has benefitted from an extensive community of care that also includes his grandparents working alongside us and other caregivers to ensure his needs and accommodations are met. The week of the shooting was the first week when we were not in class with him. We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives.
Since this incident, our son has been under hospital care and receiving the treatment he needs. We thank our son’s medical treatment team as well as our family, friends, and all others who have offered support during this difficult time. We continue to pray for his teacher’s full recovery, and for her loved ones who are undoubtedly upset and concerned. At the same time, we love our son and are asking that you please include him and our family in your prayers.
View WAVY’s full coverage of the shooting at Richneck Elementary here.
This is breaking news and will be updated.
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