8 Warnings Ignored by School Before 6-Year-Old Shot His Teacher, According to Staffers

Parents and administrators claim that the school failed on many levels. 

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Jan. 6 at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, the unthinkable happened. A 6-year-old boy pulled out a gun and shot first-grade teacher Abigail Zwerner while she was teaching. The gun, licensed to his mother, was reportedly kept locked on the top shelf of her closet and "was secured," according to the family's attorney, James Ellenson, and it is unknown how the child obtained it.

"Our heart goes out to our son's teacher and we pray for her healing in the aftermath of such an unimaginable tragedy as she selflessly served our son and the children in the school," the family said in a statement. "She has worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son. We thank her for her courage, grace and sacrifice."

While it is unclear what provoked the shooting, according to staffers at the school, there were several warnings about the child that the school ignored. Here are eight of them. 

The School Was Allegedly Warned About the Boy Having a Gun


According to Newport News Superintendent George Parker III, school officials got a tip the boy had a gun that day and searched his backpack, The Washington Post reports. But staffers failed to find the weapon before the shooting.

However, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew maintains that his department was not contacted about the report that the boy was in possession of a weapon before the shooting.

Zwerner Reportedly "Asked for Help" with the Boy "Several Times"

Abby Zwerner/Facebook

The Washington Post obtained screenshots of a conversation held online between school employees after the shooting, which implied that Zwerner sought help multiple times. One said, "she had asked for help," with another adding, "several times." Not only did she ask for help "all year," but according to the staff member, "two hours prior."

School Administrators Allegedly Ignored Concerns, Even When the Boy Expressed Violent Thoughts

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The Post also obtained a separate message written by a Richneck teacher from the local teachers union, which claims that school administrators ignored "grave concerns" about the 6-year-old's conduct and that the school was overall unable to care for him properly.

According to the messages, the boy once "wrote a note telling a teacher he hated her and wanted to light her on fire and watch her die," says the Post. "Alarmed, the teacher brought the note to the attention of Richneck administrators and was told to drop the matter, according to the account." 

The Boy Reportedly Threw Furniture


According to the report, on a second occasion, "the boy threw furniture and other items in class, prompting students to hide beneath their desks." And, another time, the teacher said that "the boy barricaded the doors to a classroom, preventing a teacher and students from leaving. The teacher banged on the classroom door until another teacher from across the hall forced it open from the outside."

Resources Were Strained, Teacher Claims

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The same teacher also maintains that resources were too strained. "The lead special education teacher was frustrated because she has a high caseload," The Post reports. "Some aides regularly missed work, including for as long as a week at a time."

The teacher also stated that  "the boy was not receiving the educational services he needed, that it was difficult to get help with him during outbursts and that he was sometimes seen wandering the school unsupervised."

The Parents Had Just Stopped "Attending School with Him"


According to the boy's family, the 6-year-old was "under a care plan" that "included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day." However, they stopped the week of the shooting, the statement said. "We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives," they said in the statement. 

The School Failed to Notify Other Parents About the Issues, Source Claims


Thomas Britton, the father of a boy in Zwerner's class, said school officials never formally notified parents in the class about issues with the boy who fired the shot. He maintains that administrators mishandled the shooting, especially after reports that he had a gun.

They also should have done a more thorough search. "That was a shocking revelation that not only did he bring the weapon, but somebody gave a tip he had the weapon," Britton said. "It seems to me it would be completely avoidable at that point."

Little Was Done About Bullying, One of the Parents Claims

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At a school board meeting, one parent of a child in Zwerner's class said her daughter had been bullied by classmates but that the school didn't take the claims seriously. She even said that the Richneck principal once failed to show up for a conference about the bullying but that Zwerner defended her daughter. "Listen to your teachers when they have concerns," she said "Please!"

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