TThe shooting of a first-grade teacher by a six-year-old student in Virginia has prompted an outpouring of shock and anger over how such a young child could be involved in a school shooting.
City officials, teachers and parents are demanding that something — anything — be done about the shockingly high rate of gun violence in the U.S., which killed nearly 45,000 Americans in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Abby Zwerner, 25, was critically injured after being shot intentionally at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, on Friday, police said.
Zwerner was praised for urging her students to run for their lives as she lay bleeding on the classroom floor, and her condition is now listed as stable in hospital, a police spokesperson said in a statement to The independent.
Much is still unknown about the shooting. Police have understandably been tight-lipped about the investigation, given the suspect’s age.
The crucial unanswered question was how a six-year-old child was able to obtain a loaded gun, take it to school and deliberately shoot a teacher.
Police were called to Richneck Elementary School at 2 p.m. on Friday, June 6. January for reports of shootings.
It later emerged that a six-year-old had fired a gun at the teacher after an “argument” in class.
“It was in a classroom and there was a fight,” Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew told reporters at a media briefing Friday night.
Zwerner, a first-grade teacher, was rushed to Riverside Regional Medical Center with “life-threatening injuries,” Drew said. No one else was injured.
Parents who showed up at Richneck Elementary to pick up their children expressed their horror at the shooting.
“Why is there a seven year old with a bloody gun?” added a British mother WTKR outside the school gate, before the authorities had confirmed the age of the suspect.
British mum blasts US gun laws after six-year-old shoots teacher
“You have a beautiful country, you have beautiful people. But what is the problem? Guns … That’s what I’m pissed off about.”
Richneck Elementary Principal Briana Foster Newton said in a statement that the school will be closed on Monday and Tuesday “to give us time to heal”.
A 24-hour helpline was set up to advise parents and staff on how to talk to their children about the shooting.
“The tragic event that happened on Friday affects us all deeply,” she said.
A third school shooting in the district in 18 months
The shooting at Richneck Elementary School was the third to occur in the Newport News Public Schools District in the past 18 months.
In September 2021, 16-year-old Jacari Taylor opened fire in a crowded hallway at Heritage High School, wounding two 17-year-old students, WAVY GATE reported. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on several charges.
Then in December 2021, 18-year-old Warwick High School student Demari Batten was charged with murder following the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old at a basketball game at another high school.
Molly Hunter, who has three children in Newport News elementary schools, told NBC News the response after previous shootings in the district had been inadequate.
She said the district had been stretched thin as it struggled to fill vacant teaching positions and “the violence issues are out of control.”
Hunter told NBC News that solving gun violence in the district was a big task, but that having sensible gun laws, installing metal detectors in schools, hiring more teachers and mental health counselors would help.
George Parker, superintendent of Newport News Public Schools, told a press conference Friday that every school in the district had metal detection capabilities, but they are usually only used if there is a specific threat.
He said access to metal detectors could be increased after the latest shooting, adding there were “a lot of concerns that we need to unpack”.
“I cannot control access to weapons. My teachers can’t control access to guns,” Parker added.
“Our students got a lesson in gun violence and what guns can do to disrupt not only an educational environment, but also a family, a community.”
Newport News is a city of about 185,000 people in southeastern Virginia and has 26,500 students in its public school system.
“A Red Flag for the Country”
Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones said in a statement on Saturday that the shooting was a “red flag for the country”.
“I think after this incident there will be a nationwide discussion about how to prevent things like this,” Jones said.
Under Virginia law, six-year-olds cannot be charged as adults.
A child that young cannot be incarcerated by the Department of Juvenile Justice if found guilty.
However, a juvenile court judge may revoke parental custody and place a child under the Department of Social Services.
Jones said the child was receiving “all the services he needs right now,” but would not say where the child was being held.
A researcher who tracks gun violence told the Associated Press that it was “very rare” but not unheard of for a child so young to shoot a teacher in class.
David Riedman, who runs a database that tracks school shootings since 1970, said he was aware of only two previous cases where a child that age or younger fired a weapon in class.
In 2000, six-year-old Kayla Rolland was shot and killed by a six-year-old classmate at Buell Elementary School in Mount Morris Township, Michigan, in a case that drew worldwide attention.
Who is Abby Zwerner?
Zwerner is one of four first grade teachers at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia.
According to an online profile, she is from Ruckersville, Virginia, and lives in Williamsburg.
A former member of the Newport News School Board told the Associated Press that he had met members of Zwerner’s family at the hospital on Friday.
“The administrators and other teachers talked about how she’s a great teammate, she’s a team player, she loves her kids, she’s just a great teacher,” John Eley said.
Many of her family members, including several aunts, were teachers, Eley said.
Zwerner graduated from James Maddison University in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary liberal studies and minors in elementary education and music.
She received a master’s degree in education from JMU’s College of Education in 2020.
In a statement, University President Jonathan R Alger said: “All of us at James Madison University are deeply saddened by the reported tragic shooting of JMU alumna Abby Zwerner.
“We offer our prayers and best wishes for Abby’s health and recovery and want to do everything we can to support Abby, her family and friends, fellow teachers and current students and their families during this incredibly difficult time.”
According to an obituary published it Williamsburg Yorktown DailyZwerner’s father John Zwerner was a firefighter and paramedic who died unexpectedly at the family home in 2020 at the age of 56.
He was survived by his wife Julie, Mrs Zwerner and her two siblings Daniel and Hannah.