NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – There will be a heavy police presence when students return to class Monday at Richneck Elementary School, but it will continue to not have a school resource officer.
That’s among the things Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew told 10 On Your Side in an interview.
Richneck students have been out of school since the Jan. 6 shooting, when police said a 6-year-old student shot Newport News first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner.
Her lawyer, Diane Toscano, has sent a notice to the Newport News School Board of the intent to file a lawsuit on Zwerner’s behalf as she is currently at home recovering, with a bullet still lodged in her chest and awaiting another operation.
Drew, who will be at the school for its reopening along with other officers and firefighters, said he never anticipated the national attention that the story would generate. He said it shows the nation is concerned about not only what happened, but also how it happened.
Drew spoke in support of school resource officers, though Richneck will not have any for now, and he talked about the investigation, warrants issued to search the home of the 6-year-old boy, and some of his memories over the course of the past three weeks since the shooting.
The classroom where Abby Zwerner was shot will now be used for another purpose, according to a Newport News Public Schools spokesperson.
Who knew about the gun before the shooting?
Drew reflected on the events that took place Jan. 6, and who knew what about whether there was a gun in the possession of a 6-year-old on the school campus.
“There was information known ahead of time that there may be a gun on campus,” Drew said. “We were not notified about that ahead of time. The only time we knew was after the incident.”
What did Drew think about that? Knowing people knew there was a gun, or reports of a gun at the school, yet no calls to the police, did that disappoint him?
“Yes,” he said, before elaborating.
“If there was a thought of a gun at school especially an elementary school, we should be called,” Drew said. “We should be called. I would rather find out it is nothing when we go there than to have to respond to what we had to on (Jan. 6).”
Part of the investigation includes the aspect of why police weren’t called earlier on, and whether there was a lack of urgency.
“I guarantee you, those are some of the questions being asked by the people who are interviewing the faculty and staff,” Drew said. “To find out why not, and can you tell us why, and we have collected a lot of that information.”
Drew also confirmed the search warrants issued for the student’s home.
“The police department along with federal partners of the ATF conducted a search of their residence,” Drew said. “We also conducted a search of records from human services, and other services the family received.”
Drew would not go into detail, but they think they know how this happened.
“We want to know if there are any records dealing with aggressive behavior, anger issues from the school,” Drew said. “I would l like to review those records.”
The investigation is vast, and Drew said the mother who owned the gun is cooperating.
Drew declined to say whether the investigation shows negligence on the part of the child’s parents – if that is what the investigation will reveal.
“I appreciate the question, and I understand it,” Drew said, “but I will not cross that line. … I will not compromise the investigation.”
Metal detectors yes, school resource officers no
Contrary to many parents wishes, Drew said there will be not be a student resource officer, or SRO, assigned to Richneck Elementary.
“I don’t have the manpower or the staffing to put an SRO in our 23, 24 elementary schools,” Drew said.
Does he support them being there?
In a word – yes.
“If I had the manpower right now, I would ask, ‘Is that something you (the school division) would like?’ I am in favor of it, but that is their building and that is their decision.”
High school students told Drew they supported SROs in the elementary schools.
“I asked them, ‘How many of you think we should have SROs in the high schools and how many of you think we should not? Everyone said yes (to putting SROs in elementary schools.),” Drew said.
As to additional security measures at the school, Drew said metal detectors are now at Richneck.
“They are there where the security officers will be stationed,” Drew said. “I did see metal detectors, and they showed me how they worked.”
Enduring memory of Jan. 6
The last image for Drew Jan. 6 was the hallway camera video outside Zwerner’s classroom.
“When I came back and saw kids rushing out of that room,” Drew said, “and I saw Abby being the last one out of that room, to go down the hallway, to stop, and to look back to make sure her kids were clear, that’s why I think she is heroic.”