School Climate & Safety

School Officials Searched 1st Grader’s Backpack Before Teacher Was Shot

By The Associated Press — January 13, 2023 2 min read
Newport News Superintendent of Schools George Parker makes remarks on the safety parameters currently in place at the city's schools during a press conference at the Newport News School Administration Building in Newport News, Va., on Monday Jan. 9, 2023. A Virginia police chief said a 6-year-old student fired the handgun that wounded a Virginia first-grade teacher while she was teaching class on Friday, Jan. 6 at Richneck Elementary School.
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Administrators at the Virginia school where a 1st grader shot his teacher last week learned the child may have had a weapon in his possession before the shooting but did not find the 9mm handgun he brought despite searching his bag, the school system’s superintendent said.

Police said Friday they were not told about the tip before the shooting occurred. Kelly King, a spokesperson for the Newport News Police Department, told The Associated Press that some time after the shooting, police learned through their investigation that a school employee was notified of a possible gun at Richneck Elementary School before the Jan. 6 shooting.

“The Newport News Police Department was not notified of this information prior to the incident,” King wrote in an email.

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Signs that say "get better fast," "you are in our hearts," "we love Richneck," and "we stand by you" are stuck to the hunter green front doors of Richneck Elementary School.
Messages of support for teacher Abby Zwerner, who authorities say was shot by a 6-year-old student, grace the front door of Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 9. The teacher is known as a hard-working educator who’s devoted to her students and enthusiastic about the profession that runs in her family.
John C. Clark/AP

Michelle Price, a spokesperson for the Newport News school district, declined to comment on the police statement. She said that typically, when school officials receive a tip about a potential weapon or other contraband in the schools, if the tip includes specific information about a particular student or a particular classroom, “that’s where the search starts.”

“I’m not able to comment on whether other searches may have occurred, except for the fact that the superintendent has shared that the student’s backpack was searched and nothing was found at the time,” Price told The Associated Press.

Superintendent George Parker said during an online meeting with parents Thursday night that at least one school administrator was notified the boy may have a weapon before the 6-year-old shot the teacher.

Parker’s comments were first reported by WAVY-TV. The online meeting was for parents only, but WAVY-TV reported the station gained access to the meeting from a parent. On Friday, Price confirmed the superintendent’s comments.

Police Chief Steve Drew has previously said the boy brought the gun to school in his backpack the day of the shooting.

Price said she has not been told where school officials believe the gun was when the boy’s backpack was searched.

“That probably is definitely part of our internal investigation and the police investigation, but nothing about that has been released publicly,” Price said.

She declined to comment when asked who reported that the boy may have a weapon and whether school officials should have taken additional steps after the weapon was not found in his backpack.

The teacher, Abigail Zwerner, 25, was shot in the chest with injuries initially considered to be life threatening. Her condition has improved, though, and she has been reported in stable condition at a hospital.

Earlier Thursday, Newport News School Board Chair Lisa Surles-Law said the district will install metal detectors at all schools, starting with Richneck.

The Jan. 6 shooting occurred as Zwerner was teaching her class. Authorities said there was no warning and no struggle before the 6-year-old boy pointed the gun at Zwerner.

Drew has described the shooting as intentional. A judge will determine what’s next for the child, who is being held at a medical facility following an emergency custody order.

Drew said the child used his mother’s gun, which had been purchased legally. It’s unclear how he gained access to the weapon. A Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to a child under 14 as a misdemeanor.

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Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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