NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Concerned staff warned principals at a Virginia elementary school three times that a 6-year-old boy had a gun and was threatening other students in the hours before he shot and wounded a teacher, but the administration was “paralyzed with apathy” and didn’t call police, did not remove the boy from the classroom or close the school, the injured teacher’s attorney said Wednesday.
Diane Toscano, an attorney for Abigail Zwerner, said during a press conference that she notified the school board in Newport News that the 25-year-old teacher at Richneck Elementary School plans to sue the school district over the Jan. 6 shooting. left Zwerner with serious injuries.
“On that day, in the space of a few hours, three different times – three times – the school principal was alerted by concerned teachers and staff that the boy had a gun on him at school and was threatening people. But management couldn’t be bothered,” Toscano said.
He said Zwerner first went to an administrator around 11:15 a.m. the day of the shooting and said the boy had threatened to hit another child, but no action was taken.
About an hour later, another teacher went to an administrator and said she had taken it upon herself to search the boy’s library, but warned that she thought the boy had put the gun in his pocket before going outside for recess, Toscano said.
“The administrator downplayed the teacher’s report and the possibility of a gun, saying — and I quote — ‘Well, he’s got little pockets,'” Toscano said.
Shortly after 1 p.m., another teacher told an administrator that a different student who was “crying and scared” said the boy pointed the gun at him during recess and threatened to shoot him if he told anyone. Again, no action was taken, he said.
When another employee who had heard the boy might have a gun asked an administrator to search the boy, he was denied, Toscano said.
“They told him to wait for the situation to end because the school day was almost over,” she said.
About an hour later, “Abby Zwerner was shot in front of terrified children and the school and the community are living the nightmare, all because the school administration failed to act,” Toscano said.
“If they weren’t so paralyzed by apathy, they could have prevented this tragedy,” he said.
School district spokeswoman Michelle Price and School Board President Lisa Searles-Law did not immediately return calls seeking comment on Toscano’s allegations.
The shooting raised questions about safety at the school and caused consternation in Newport News, a city of about 185,000 about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southeast of Richmond.
Superintendent George Parker III, who has been heavily criticized by parents and teachers since the shooting, said at least one administrator was told the day of the shooting that the boy might have a gun, but no weapon was found when his backpack was searched. Police said school officials did not tell them about that information before the shooting, which happened hours later.
Cindy Connell, a high school teacher in Newport News, called the events described by Toscano “beyond horrific.”
“This is just another example of administrators not listening to teachers’ concerns, and the only reason we’re talking about this is because Abby Zwerner was shot,” Connell said.
“I think any administrator who was repeatedly told this kid has a gun, we believe this kid has a gun — anyone who knew about this situation and didn’t do anything should lose their job.”
Police Chief Steve Drew has repeatedly called the shooting “intentional,” saying the boy targeted Zwerner and fired a round, hitting her in the arm and chest. Zwerner was hospitalized for nearly two weeks but is now recovering at home, Toscano said.
“The road to full recovery will be long … and the psychological scars will last,” Toscano said.
The boy’s mother legally purchased the gun used in the shooting, police said. The boy’s family said in a statement last week that the gun was “secured”. The family’s attorney, James Ellenson, told The Associated Press that he understood the gun was in the woman’s closet on a shelf more than 6 feet high and had a trigger lock that required a key.
The family also said in their statement that the boy has a “severe disability” and was under a care program “that involved his mother or father going to school with him and accompanying him to class every day.” The week of the shooting was the first time a parent was not in class with him, the family said.
James Ellenson, an attorney for the boy’s family, released a statement Wednesday saying they “continue to pray for Ms. Zwerner and wish her a full and complete recovery.”
“Our hearts go out to everyone involved,” Ellenson said.
The Newport News school board will hold a special meeting Wednesday afternoon to vote on a separation agreement and severance package for Parker, according to a posted agenda. The board is also scheduled to vote on a new interim superintendent.
The school, which has been closed since the shooting, is scheduled to reopen next week. Karen Lynch, a longtime principal in the Newport News school district, has been named an “administrator on special assignment” in Richneck, Lynch said in a memo to parents Monday.
Associated Press reporter Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed to this report.
For more shooting coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/newport-news