Richneck Elementary reopens weeks after teacher shot by 6-year-old boy


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Richneck Elementary reopened Monday, three weeks after police say a 6-year-old at the school did the unthinkable, carrying a gun to school, hiding it from school officials and intentionally shooting his first-grade teacher.

Students streamed into a school that has been transformed by the event. They passed through a phalanx of police and public officials, and through metal detectors. The sign board outside the school read “RICHNECK STRONG,” and black and green ribbons adorned posts along a walkway. The classroom where the shooting took place has been shuttered, and the students of teacher Abigail Zwerner, who was injured, were redirected to another classroom that had been freshly painted and decorated.

Jennifer Roe walked her fourth-grade son into school. She said she was satisfied with security changes made by school officials, which she saw during a family visit last week.

“I think it’s good they’re taking the steps to make sure everything is secure and we don’t have another incident like this,” Roe said.

The Jan. 6 shooting of Zwerner, which has drawn national attention, is still under investigation. Her attorney for her alleged last week the school’s administration was warned three times on the day of the shooting that the boy had a gun or had made threats but that school leaders failed to take action.

“This tragedy was entirely preventable if the school administrators responsible for school safety had done their part and taken action when they had knowledge of imminent danger,” Zwerner’s attorney, Diane Toscano, said during a news conference where she also announced that the teacher intends to sue over the shooting.

On Monday, new administrators greeted parents after the assistant principal resigned last week amid outrage from parents and the community for their handling of events before the shooting. The principal is still employed by the school system, but it is not clear in what role. The school system’s superintendent was also relieved of his duties last week.

Zwerner was hit by a single round as she was teaching a lesson. The bullet struck her hand and chest, and she rushed her other students out of the classroom before being taken to the hospital. Zwerner has since been released from the hospital and continues to recover.

Police said the gun used in the shooting was brought from the boy’s home and belonged to his mother. In a statement issued through their attorney, the child’s family has said the gun was secured. The family’s attorney said the gun was kept on a top shelf of the mother’s bedroom closet and the family was unsure how the boy was able to remove a trigger lock on the gun to keep it from firing. No charges have been filed in the shooting.

In the statement, the family also said their son has an “acute disability.”

The Washington Post previously reported that Zwerner had repeatedly asked administrators for help with the boy, but school officials downplayed warnings about his behavior from her and other teachers, according to messages from teachers.

It is unlikely the boy will be charged in the case, legal experts said. In Virginia, children younger than 7 are presumed to be unable to form the intent to carry out an illegal act.

Inside the school building Monday, school board Chair Lisa Surles-Law said children were elated to return to school.

“They’re smiling. They’re happy to be back with their friends,” she said.

Moriah Balingit reported from Washington, D.C.

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