6-year-old shoots teacher in Virginia causing community backlash and demand for additional security measures

A side door warns visitors to stop at Richneck Elementary School. Photo from Getty Images.

Tori Miller News Editor

Six days into the new year, Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia made headlines for being the first US school shooting of 2023. The shooter was a 6-year-old first grader who intentionally fired on his teacher leaving her hospitalized. 

25-year-old teacher, Abby Zwerner, was shot through the hand and into her stomach, according to ABC News. While her injuries were initially described as life-threatening, Zwerner is now in stable condition.

The first grader was taken into police custody immediately after the shooting. In a news conference, police Chief Steve Drew confirmed that no other students were involved. The boy was under a temporary detention order and was being evaluated at a hospital, police told CNN.

The gun– which was legally purchased by the 6-year-old’s mother– was taken by the child from his home, Drew said. The child brought it to school in his backpack and his mother could potentially face charges at the end of the investigation, he said. 

According to CNN, the family of the 6-year-old released a statement through their attorney, saying they grieve for the people impacted by the shooting and regret not being at school with their child.

“Our son suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day,” the family said.

But the week of the shooting was the first time they weren’t alongside him in class.

“We grieve alongside all of the other teachers, families and administrators for how this horrific incident has impacted them, our community and the nation,” they said.

The family also claimed that the gun allegedly used in the shooting was secured before the incident. 

“Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children,” they said.

On Jan. 23 James Ellenson, the attorney representing the child’s family, told CNN that the suspected gun used in the shooting was kept on the top shelf of his mother’s bedroom closet. The gun had been secured by a trigger lock but there is still uncertainty on how the child accessed the weapon, Ellenson told CNN in an email Sunday.

Authorities said the 6-year-old’s backpack was searched prior to the shooting. No gun was found in the backpack, causing the Newport News School Board to consider additional safety measures including metal detectors for all visitors, clear backpacks for students and additional security personnel. 

The age of the suspect has left the Richneck community reeling from the news that a child allegedly obtained a gun, brought it to school and willingly shot his teacher. On Jan. 18, parents and community members made their frustrations and concerns known at a Newport News, Virginia, school board meeting.

Andrea Hogg, the parent of an eighth grader in the district, asked the school board about their new initiatives.

“Metal detectors are a great idea. But do we have the manpower for someone to watch these metal detectors?” Hogg asked. “We already have a teacher shortage and a bus driver shortage. So who’s gonna watch the metal detectors?”

According to ABC News, the school is currently in a self-proclaimed “rescue phase” with the goal to ensure safety to their students and faculty. In addition, the board said it was seeking advice from officials at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where a shooting killed 19 students and two teachers last May. 

During the nearly three-hour board meeting, parents were critical about the lack of communication between themselves and the school administration after the shooting. 

Kasey Sypolt, a Richneck parent, spoke her concerns to school board members, saying, “I hope that none of you ever have to receive a text message from your elementary school child, but he’s terrified. I did not hear from the school until I was already there.”

The superintendent of Newport News Public Schools, Dr. George Parker, said at the news conference that “we need to keep guns out of the hands of our young people.”

“This is not a Newport News problem,” he told the New York Times. “It’s a bigger and broader problem than what we’re seeing today.”

The investigation has spurred conversation around school security and access to guns, in an era of increasing school shootings. Richneck Elementary has been closed since the shooting and new updates to the case continue to be brought into the discussion.

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