School administrators warned first-grader had gun before shooting teacher: attorney

Abigail Zwerner's attorney said she plans on suing after being seriously injured in the Jan. 6 shooting.

Updated: January 25, 2023 - 3:36pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Staffers warned administrators numerous times that the 6-year-old who allegedly shot his teacher recently at a Virginia elementary school had a gun and was threatening others earlier in the day, an attorney for the injured teacher said Wednesday.

The claim was as made in announcing first-grade teacher Abigail Zwerner intends to sue the southeastern Virginia school district. 

The 25-year-old teacher is being represented attorney Diane Toscano, following the Jan. 6 incident at the Richneck Elementary School, in Newport News, Va.

"On that day, over the course of a few hours, three different times – three times – school administration was warned by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people," Toscano said. "But the administration could not be bothered.

Toscano cited numerous alleged warnings.

On the day of the shooting, Zwerner notified the administration at about 11:15 a.m. that the boy had threatened to assault another student, but no official action occurred, she alleged.

The school district has declined to comment.

"Since the school division’s investigation is ongoing, I cannot comment on the statements presented by Ms. Zwerner’s lawyer at this time," spokesperson Michelle Price told the Associated Press.

Newport News School Board Chairwoman Lisa Surles-Law did not return a call by the wire serviced seeking comment on Toscano's allegations.

Toscano also said another teacher about an hour later told an administrator that she searched the child's backpack and she was concerned he may have put the gun in his pocket before recess.

"The administrator downplayed the report from the teacher and the possibility of a gun, saying – and I quote – ‘Well, he has little pockets,'" the attorney said. 

Another instructor shortly after 1 p.m. told an administrator that another student was "crying and fearful" and said the 6-year-old had shown him the weapon at recess and threatened to shoot him if he talked about it. The school still did not take action. 

Another employee allegedly heard about the gun and asked an administrator to search the boy, but the request was denied, Toscano said. "He was told to wait the situation out because the school day was almost over," the attorney said. 

"Abby Zwerner was shot in front of those horrified kids, and the school and community are living the nightmare, all because the school administration failed to act," Toscano said. "Were they not so paralyzed by apathy, they could have prevented this tragedy."

The teacher was shot once, and the bullet went through her hand and into her chest, officials said.