NEWPORT NEWS, Virginia. Worried staff warned Virginia elementary school administrators three times that a 6-year-old boy was armed and threatened other students hours before he shot and wounded a teacher, but administration “was paralyzed.” out of apathy” and did not call the police, remove the boy from the classroom or close the school, the injured teacher’s lawyer said Wednesday.
Later that day, the school board voted to fire school district superintendent George Parker III as part of a separation agreement that would pay Parker just over $502,000 in severance pay—two years of his current base salary of $251,000. Parker was heavily criticized by parents and teachers after the January 6 shooting.
Diane Toscano, Abigail Zwerner’s attorney, said during a press conference that she notified the school board in Newport News that the 25-year-old Richneck elementary school teacher plans to sue the school district over the shooting that resulted in Zwerner left with serious injuries.
“On that day, within a few hours, three times – three times – the school administration was warned by interested teachers and employees that the boy was at school with a weapon and threatened people. But the administration could not be disturbed, ”said Toscano.
She said Zwerner first went to the administrator around 11:15 a.m. on the day of the shooting and said the boy had threatened to beat up another child, but no action was taken.
About an hour later, another teacher approached the administrator and said she took it upon herself to search the boy’s bag, but warned that she thought the boy had put the gun in his pocket before going out for recess, Toscano said.
“The administrator downplayed the teacher’s report and the possibility of having a weapon, saying – and I quote – “Well, he has small pockets,” Toscano said.
Shortly after 1:00 pm, another teacher told the administrator that another student who was “crying and afraid” said the boy showed him a gun during recess and threatened to shoot him if he told anyone. According to her, no action was taken.
When another employee, who had heard that the boy might have a gun, asked the receptionist to search the boy, Toscano said, he was denied.
“He was told to wait because the school day was almost over,” she said.
About an hour later, “Abby Zwerner was shot dead in front of terrified children, and the school and community are in a nightmare, all because the school administration was inactive,” Toscano said.
“If they hadn’t been so paralyzed by apathy, they could have prevented this tragedy,” she said.
School district spokeswoman Michelle Price declined to comment.
“Because the school investigation is ongoing, I cannot comment on the statements submitted by Ms. Zwerner’s attorney at this time,” Price wrote in an email.
The shooting raised questions about school safety and stunned Newport News, a city of about 185,000 about 70 miles southeast of Richmond.
Parker’s departure was expected as the school board’s agenda was released on Tuesday showing the committee was to vote on his termination package. The partition and termination agreement states that the board has decided to “terminate the contract and hire a superintendent.”
The board voted 5-1 in favor of the agreement after several members praised Parker’s past performance as superintendent.
Board member Gary Hunter defended Parker at length, with some viewers sighing and telling him to “move on”. Hunter said he thought Parker was being unfairly accused of the shooting and said the real problem was the lack of “sound gun laws”.
“Getting rid of someone is not going to solve this particular problem,” Hunter said.
As part of the agreement, board chairman Lisa Surles-Low read a statement in which the board stated that the decision to fire Parker was made “for no reason” and that Parker “is a capable division leader” who has been with the school district for almost five years. years “through extremely difficult circumstances.”
Parker said at least one administrator was told on the day of the shooting that the boy may have had a weapon, but no weapons were found when his backpack was searched. The police said the school administration did not inform them of this until after the shooting, which occurred several hours later.
Cindy Connell, a high school teacher at Newport News, called the events described by Toscano “incredibly horrifying.”
“This is just another example of administrators not listening to teachers’ concerns, and the only reason we’re talking about this is because Abby Zwerner was shot,” Connell said.
“I think any administrator who has been repeatedly told that this child has a weapon, we think this child has a weapon – anyone who knew about this situation and did nothing should be fired.”
Police Chief Steve Drew repeatedly characterized the shooting as “deliberate”, saying the boy aimed at Zwerner and fired once, hitting her in the arm and chest. Zwerner was hospitalized for nearly two weeks, Toscano said, but is now recuperating at home.
“The road to full recovery will be a long one…and psychological scars will remain for a long time,” Toscano said.
The boy’s mother legally purchased the gun used in the shooting, police said. In a statement last week, the boy’s family said the gun was “protected.” Family lawyer James Ellenson told The Associated Press that he believed the gun was in the woman’s closet on a shelf over 6 feet (1.8 meters) high and had a trigger that required a key.
The family also said in a statement that the boy had a “severe disability” and that he was under care “which included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to lessons every day.” According to the family, the week of the shooting was the first time the parent was not in class with him.
James Ellenson, the boy’s family’s attorney, released a statement on Wednesday saying they “continue to pray for Ms. Zwerner and wish her a full and complete recovery.”
“Our hearts go out to all involved,” Ellenson said.
The school, closed after the shooting, is due to reopen next week. Karen Lynch, longtime principal of the Newport News School District, has been appointed “administrator-at-large” at Richneck, Lynch said in a note to parents on Monday.
In anticipation of the reopening, administrators and teachers held an open day at the school for students and families to visit staff and participate in activities. Signs along the sidewalks in front of the school offered hopeful messages to students: “You’ve got it,” “We’re praying for you,” and “You’re loved.”