RICHMOND, VA — John Eley III, a former Newport News School Board member, identified the first-grade teacher as 25-year-old Abby Zwerner. Zwerner was shot Friday at Richneck Elementary School, authorities said.
Shortly after the shooting, police said Zwerner had life-threatening injuries but has improved and is in stable condition at a local hospital.
Eley and other city officials met with teachers and the school principal Friday and then went to the hospital, where they met with members of Zwerner’s family, including several aunts who are also teachers.
“Everyone in the family was an educator and she said she was excited to do the job,” said Eley, who was recently elected to the Newport News City Council.
“The custodians and other teachers talked about how she’s a good teammate, she’s a team player, she loves her kids, she’s just a good teacher in every way,” she added.
The Newport News Police Department announced that the police chief, mayor and school superintendent will hold a press conference at 4 pm to provide updates on the incident.
SHOOTING LEAVES AFTERMATH
For her part, Cindy Hurst said her 8-year-old granddaughter is still nervous about the shooting. She was in Zwerner’s class last year and told her grandmother that she is a great teacher.
“I just hate that this happened,” Hurst told The Virginian-Pilot. “But life as we know it may never be the same again, I don’t know.”
Zwerner attended James Madison University graduating in 2019 with a BA in Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies and a minor in Elementary Education and Music. She graduated from JMU College of Education in 2020 with a Master of Education.
JMU President Jonathan Alger offered a message of support for Zwerner, his family, friends and fellow faculty, students and their families.
“JMU stands ready to support those affected by this incident now and in the coming weeks,” Alger tweeted on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Police Chief Steve Drew said the boy shot and wounded the teacher with a handgun in a first-grade classroom. He later he was taken into police custody. According to the official, the shooting was not accidental and was part of an altercation. No student was injured.
Police have declined to describe what led up to the altercation or any other details about what happened in the classroom, citing the ongoing investigation. They also declined to say how the boy got access to the gun or who owns the gun.
Virginia law does not allow 6-year-olds to be tried as adults. Also, a 6-year-old is too young to be taken into the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice if he is found guilty.
However, a juvenile judge would have the authority to revoke custody of a parent and place a child under the supervision of the Department of Social Services.
Police in Newport News, Virginia, report that the shooting was not accidental.
Mayor Phillip Jones did not say where the boy is being held.
“We made sure that you have all the services that you currently need,” Jones said Saturday.
Experts who study gun violence said the shooting represents an extremely rare case of a young child bringing a gun to school and injuring a teacher.
“It’s very rare and it’s not something the legal system is really designed or positioned to deal with,” said researcher David Riedman, founder of a database tracking US school shootings dating back to 1970.
Riedman mentioned Saturday that he is aware of only three other shootings by 6-year-olds in the time period he studied. Those include the fatal shooting of a fellow student in 2000 in Michigan and shootings that injured other students in 2011 in Texas and 2021 in Mississippi.
The expert also said he knows of only one other case of a younger student shooting at a school, in which a 5-year-old student brought a gun to a Tennessee campus in 2013 and accidentally fired it. No one was injured in that case.
Newport News is a city of about 185,000 in southeastern Virginia known for its shipyard, which builds the nation’s aircraft carriers and other vessels for the US Navy.
Richneck has about 550 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, according to the Virginia Department of Education website. Jones indicated that there will be no classes at the school on Monday and Tuesday.