NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – The lawyer for the Newport News first-grade teacher shot by her student on Jan. 6 announced Wednesday that she will be filing a lawsuit against Newport News Public Schools.
During a press conference Wednesday, Virginia trial lawyer Diane Toscano stated that she sent a notice to the Newport News School Board of the intent to file a lawsuit on Abby Zwerner’s behalf.
Toscano says she communicates with Abby daily and that Abby is at home recovering and is gaining strength every day.
Zwerner was in class teaching, when police say a 6-year-old student shot her. She was critically injured, but continued to show improvement and was released from Riverside Regional Medical Center last week, the hospital confirmed to WAVY.
Although she is improving, Toscano says the road to recovering for Abby will be long and that the psychological wounds remain fresh and will be lasting.
Toscano continued by saying Abby and the other teachers at Richneck Elementary School 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 6-year-old had a gun on him at school.
According to Toscano, the first incident of the day occurred between 11:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. when Abby went to a school administrator to tell them that the 6-year-old had threatened to beat up another child. Toscano says the school administration did not call security or remove the student from the classroom after the incident.
Around 12:30 p.m., another teacher went to a school administrator and told them that she searched the 6-year-old’s backpack, who at the time was rumored to have brought a gun to school.
The teacher then told the administrator that she believed the 6-year-old put the gun in his pocket before going out to recess. The administrator then downplayed the report they received from the teacher saying, “well he has little pockets.”
Toscano says shortly after 1 p.m., a third teacher told administrators that another boy was crying and told the teacher that the 6-year-old showed him the gun at recess and threatened to shoot him if he told anyone.
Following that information, Toscano says the administrators did not follow the necessary safety protocols and did not call the police.
“Three times school admin was warned by teachers and employees that the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people. But the administration could not be bothered,” Toscano said.
When a fourth employee heard about the danger, he asked an administrator if he could search the boy, which was denied. Administrators then told that employee to wait the situation out because the school day was almost over.
Almost an hour after the fourth employee went to administrators, Abby was shot in her classroom by the 6-year-old.
Toscano ended the press conference by saying the shooting should have never happened and that this incident was “entirely preventable” if the school’s administrators who were responsible for school safety had taken action when they learned the boy had a gun.
“This should have never happened and it was preventable. Thank God Abby is alive. But had administrators acted Abby would not have sustained a gunshot wound to her chest,” said Toscano.
She said the bullet that struck Abby remains “dangerously” inside her body and that she is in between surgeries and therapy appointments.
Director of Public Information and Community for Newport News Public Schools Michelle Price told 10 On Your Side that since the school division’s investigation is ongoing, she cannot comment on the statements presented by Zwerner’s lawyer at this time.
School Superintendent George Parker III did confirm days after the shooting that the child’s backpack was searched for a gun just hours before the shooting.
10 On Your Side reached out to police to ask if the school staff the lawyer said did not act could be criminally charged, and were told that is “part of the ongoing investigation.”
Watch the full press conference below:
The parents of the child accused in this incident issued a statement last week, which said the firearm the child accessed was secured and that they have “always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children.”
There is no information yet on how the child got access to the weapon.
It is unlikely the first grader will face charges due to his age, and no charges have been filed against his parents. The investigation is ongoing.
Richneck Elementary School has been closed since the shooting. The district announced students will return to class Monday, Jan. 30. There’s an orientation this Wednesday, Jan. 25 to begin the transition back to school.
Meanwhile, the Newport News School Board plans to approve a separation agreement and severance with Parker and vote to appoint an interim superintendent Wednesday evening.
WAVY will be there. Look for coverage throughout the day.
Check WAVY.com for the latest updates.