The 6-year-old who shot a teacher took the gun from his mother, the police say

Police in Newport News, Virginia, released new details Monday about shooting of an elementary school teacher allegedly by a 6-year-old student.

The shooting, which police say “was intentional,” took place at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News on Friday, June 6. January. The teacher, identified as 25-year-old Abigail Zwerner, was teaching when the child pulled the weapon, Police Chief Steve Drew said at a news conference.

The teacher “took a defensive position” and held up her hand, Drew said; the bullet went through her hand and entered her chest. She is still hospitalized and her condition is stable.

That shot was the only one fired, Drew said. He said there had been no physical fight between teacher and student. The child was using a 9 millimeter Taurus firearm, which Drew described as a handgun.

Police said the gun was legally purchased by the child’s mother. The child brought the gun to school in his backpack, but Drew said the firearm was on the child’s body, not pulled from the backpack, at the time of the shooting. Drew declined to provide information about how the gun was secured in the home.

“I wish we never had to (ask) … how does a 6-year-old know how to use a firearm? I don’t know if I can give you an adequate answer,” Drew said. “That’s unprecedented. I don’t know how to answer that question.”

Richneck Elementary School
Students and police gather outside Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, after a shooting Friday.

Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP

After Zwerner was shot, she was able to evacuate the children from the classroom. Drew recounted seeing security footage showing the “17 to 20” kids in the room spilling into the hallway and into a neighboring classroom. Zwerner was the last person to leave the classroom, he said, calling her “a hero.”

“It was heroic the way the students were taken care of,” Drew said.

An unidentified female school official entered the classroom and restrained the child, police said, while Zwerner sought help in administrative offices. Police say they received a call about the shooting at 1:59 p.m., and the first officers arrived on the scene five minutes later. The rest of the school was systemically evacuated and parents were reunited with their children. Students who had been in the classroom where the shooting took place were brought to the school library, where they met with investigators and mental health personnel.

Richneck Elementary School has canceled classes for the week, Superintendent Dr. George Parker III said, adding that the school and district will learn from the incident to install more safeguards against gun violence.

“I don’t think in any way we were fully prepared for a 6-year-old to bring a gun to school and shoot his teacher,” Parker said.

The child is being treated at a medical facility, Drew said. A warrant for custody has been obtained, and a judge must decide “next steps” within 96 hours of the time of the shooting.

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