RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) – The former principal of Richneck Elementary School said she was not aware of the accused student bringing a weapon to school on the day of the shooting, according to her attorney.

Attorney Pamela Johnson Branch said former principal Briana Foster-Newton, who was removed from that position following the shooting, claims she was not part of the “unidentified school administrators” being reported to have been aware of the six-year-old suspect having brought a gun to school that day.

“This is far from the truth,” Branch said, stating that those who were aware of the student bringing the gun to school did not report it to Foster-Newton.

Branch made it clear that Foster-Newton did not know about the gun.

“I repeat, Ms. Newton was, unfortunately, not one of the administrators who was informed by those in the school that day who had this critical information,” Branch said.

A Newport News Public Schools spokesperson could not comment on whether Foster-Newton knew of a potential gun on campus, as that is part of the investigation.

During the press conference Thursday, Branch confirmed that Foster-Newton is still employed with Newport News Public Schools, but is still waiting to be officially reassigned.

Newport News Public Schools has confirmed Foster-Newton was in the school at the time of the shooting, and also confirmed that there are only two administrators assigned to the school – the principal and an assistant principal, Dr. Ebony Parker, who would resign after the shooting.

Branch added that Foster-Newton has been receiving threatening voicemails wishing her ill and that she has been the subject of misinformed posts on social media.

Thursday’s press conference was Foster-Newton’s first public statement since the six-year-old student shot his teacher, Abby Zwerner, on Jan. 6.

Zwerner has since announced a lawsuit against Newport News Public Schools.

Zwerner’s lawyer, Diane Toscano, stated that Zwerner and other teachers at Richneck “tried to do the right thing on the day of the shooting.” Over the course of the day, Toscano says school administration was warned three times by teachers and employees that the six-year-old had a gun on him at school.

“She [Foster-Newton] will always want what’s best for the students, staff, and administrators at Richneck Elementary School and wishes its new leadership a safe, positive, and productive remainder of the year,” Branch said. “It’s very easy to demonize people you don’t know when in the midst of an obviously upsetting and traumatic situation for everyone, such as what happened on Jan. 6.”

Foster-Newton, who was overseeing the school as of the 2022-2023 school year, was named the school’s principal in July 2022, per the school’s social media pages and is still employed by the district. This was her first year as principal at Richneck and she has been an educator for 11 years prior to working at Richneck.

She had been working with Newport News Public Schools for the last six years as an assistant principal at the Discovery STEM Academy.

During a town hall held in January for Richneck families, former Superintendent Dr. George Parker III said Karen Lynch, the NNPS Extended Learning supervisor and a former elementary school principal, would be “leading training and preparation activities for Richneck staff moving forward.” 

Richneck Elementary School students returned to class Monday following the shooting and were met with metal detectors, clear backpacks, therapy dogs, and other additional safety measures to ensure the safety of the NNPS students.

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew told 10 On Your Side that the school will continue to not have a school resource officer because the police department does not have the resources to staff SROs at the elementary school level.

Foster-Newton also had a message for Zwerner.

“She completely understands how traumatic it is to hear what has been reported about the horrific shooting of Ms. Abby Zwerner on January 6,” Branch said. “We pray for the healing process and all those who witnessed or were otherwise impacted by the shooting on that day.”

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