Virginia school to remain closed until Friday after shooting
(CNN) — The gun allegedly used by a 6-year-old boy to shoot his teacher at a Newport News, Virginia, school was purchased legally by the boy’s mother, authorities said.
The boy took the firearm from home and brought it to school in his backpack Friday, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said Monday.
The teacher was “instructing in class when the 6-year-old showed the firearm, pointed it at him and fired,” Drew said at a news conference. “There was no physical wrestling or fighting.”
The teacher was shot in the chest, through her hand, the official said. And he added that she is in stable condition.
Drew declined to comment on whether the gun was secured at the home, saying further interviews and investigations were necessary.
The boy is under a temporary detention order and is being evaluated at a local hospital.
“We’ve been in contact with our state attorney and a few other entities to help us better serve this young man,” Drew said Friday.
Once all the interviews are completed, police will present the information to the state’s attorney’s office to determine if there will be charges against the parents, Drew said.
The teacher was first identified by her alma mater, James Madison University, as Abby Zwerner.
The school, Richneck Elementary, will be closed this week to give students “time to recover,” the institution announced.
The police chief, Newport News mayor and school superintendent Monday praised the response by Zwerner, school staff and other teachers after the shooting.
The police department received a call at 1:59 p.m. Friday about the shooting of a teacher, Drew said. When officers entered the classroom where the shooting occurred five minutes later, they saw a school employee physically restraining the boy.
The 6-year-old boy became combative and punched the employee who was holding him, then the policemen took control and escorted him out of the building and into a police car.
The injured teacher made sure all of her students left the classroom right after the shooting, Drew said. She was the last to leave her classroom, heading towards the administration office.
Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones spoke about meeting the heroes while he was a Marine, saying Zwerner would be welcome among them any time.
“Abby was faithful as a teacher,” Jones said. “She made sure everyone was okay and that she was the last to go.”
“What we saw were teachers responding immediately to protect their students,” Newport News Public Schools Superintendent George Parker said. “To make sure they separated themselves from a potential threat and responded accordingly.”
There was an emergency plan
Newport News Public Schools Superintendent George Parker said the elementary school had an emergency plan in place that allowed immediate medical attention for the injured teacher.
“While no amount of planning can guarantee that a tragedy like this will not occur, please know that our collective efforts and preparation resulted in prompt medical attention for our teacher, no injury to students, and a safe and secure reunification process. effective for our families and students,” Parker said.
The school does not have a resource officer assigned to it, district officials told CNN on Monday. Only middle and high schools have a resource officer on campus, the district said, while elementary schools have unarmed security guards.
Richneck Elementary shares a security guard with a neighboring school, and the district could not tell CNN which school the guard was at when the shooting occurred.
The district was also unable to tell CNN if there was any disciplinary action against the 6-year-old prior to the shooting.
As the investigation continues and police investigate how the boy gained access to a firearm and what led to the shooting, members of the community grapple with what happened.
“It’s a very difficult thing to process,” Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones told CNN on Sunday. “The fact that we have a 6-year-old individual with the ability to bring a weapon to school and harm his teacher, that’s something we’re still dealing with.”
The mayor declined to comment on the boy’s family or their involvement in the investigation.
“There are many questions that we have to answer as a community,” added the mayor. “Even how a 6-year-old could have had a gun, know how to use it in such a deliberate way… The individuals responsible will be held to account. I can promise.”
“We were doing math”
Friday’s shooting was the first of 2023 at a US school, according to a CNN analysis. But American school shootings have become far more common than in any other country. In 2022, there were 79 shootings in elementary schools, CNN’s analysis shows.
The students and a grandmother who was at the school described the heartbreaking moments after the shooting on Friday.
“We were doing math…an announcement came in, she was like, ‘Shut up, repeat shutdown,'” said fifth-grader Novah Jones, who was not in the room where the shooting occurred.
“I was scared… it was my first lockdown and I didn’t know what to do, so I hid under my desk, like everyone else.”
Novah initially believed there was a gunman at the school, she said in a CNN interview with her and her mother.
“I thought… a man was going to shoot us,” Novah said.
A faculty member rushed to the main office to say a teacher had been shot, said Lawonda Sample-Rusk, who was picking up her grandchildren from school when the shooting took place.
She was scared that there had been a shooting in one of her grandchildren’s classrooms. “She was about to go down to her classroom myself, but then the teacher who had been shot ran into the office,” Sample-Rusk told CNN. She was saying, “Call 911! Call 911!”
The teacher fell to her knees, Sample-Rusk said, and crawled behind a desk. A receptionist used a code word over the intercom to inform the rest of the teaching staff that the school was going to be closed.
According to Sample-Rusk, three or four other people were with the teacher and helped her.
“The wound was in the chest area and everyone was taking turns applying pressure and trying to keep her conscious,” Sample-Rusk explained, adding that emergency services arrived a few minutes later.
Parents rushed to the scene when news of the shooting spread, living out a nightmare that families of students at so many other American schools have shared.
When Marco Antonio García found out about the shooting, he ran to the school, where his son is in second grade.
“There were police helicopters everywhere outside, traffic was backed up,” he told “CNN This Morning” on Monday. “Then there was a 2-mile radius cordoned off parked cars and people running, trying to really get to the scene.”
Garcia’s son, Mark Jr, said his teacher heard the shooting and led his class back to their classroom, “and then when we got there, we all just went silent.”
“Two people were crying,” he said. “And when the police arrived, we were on our way to the gym.”
Following the shooting, all of the school’s students were evacuated from their classrooms with their teachers and taken to the gym, where they were met by counselors and officers, the police chief told CNN affiliate WTKR.
Although she was able to return home safely, Novah said she had trouble sleeping that night, worried that “he still had the gun and was going to come to my house.”
“I had like memories,” Novah said.
Licensed therapists are available to help parents with tips for talking to children, counseling services and resource referrals, Richneck Elementary School said in an update on its website.
— Brian Todd, Nicole Grether and Hannah Sarisohn contributed reporting.