Newport News school board to vote on releasing superintendent after shooting
The shooting has grabbed national attention, but Zwerner and her family have yet to comment on what happened. Toscano declined an interview on Tuesday.
Newport News police chief Steve Drew credited Zwerner, 25, with saving lives for shepherding her first-grade students to safety after a 6-year-old student pulled out a gun and shot her on Jan. 6 at Richneck Elementary School.
Despite being shot through the hand and in the chest, Drew said at a news conference after the shooting that Zwerner was “the last person to leave class.” Drew said surveillance video showed the teacher turned around after exiting to make sure “every one of those students was safe.”
“I believe she did save lives, because I don’t know what else might have happened if those kids would have stayed in that room,” Drew said.
Zwerner’s shooting has stirred outrage in Newport News. Parents and teachers have complained about how school administrators handled the shooting and safety issues more generally on the city’s campuses, where three shootings have occurred since late 2021. The school board was expected to vote Wednesday on whether to remove Superintendent George Parker III and hire an interim replacement, according to a copy of the meeting agenda.
Parker has said school officials got a tip about the boy having a gun on the day of the shooting and searched his backpack, but did not find the weapon before the incident.
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Zwerner had repeatedly asked administrators for help with the boy, but school officials downplayed warnings about his behavior from her and other teachers, including one incident where he threatened to light a teacher on fire and watch her die, according to messages from teachers obtained by The Washington Post.
Screenshots of an online discussion between Parker and school employees show educators raised alarms about the 6-year-old and sought assistance during the school year.
“She had asked for help,” one staffer wrote in that chat, referring to Zwerner.
“Several times,” came another message.
A separate account of the school’s handling of the boy by a Richneck teacher that was also obtained by The Post claims administrators waived away concerns about the boy’s behavior, and that the school was unable to properly care for him.
The school district has announced it is purchasing 90 metal detectors to install at all its schools, acquiring clear backpacks for students and making additional upgrades to security in the wake of the incident.
Police have said the boy brought the gun from home in his backpack and the firearm was legally purchased by the boy’s mother. An attorney for the boy’s family has said it was kept on the top shelf of the mother’s closet with a trigger lock on it.
Police have declined to comment on the family’s characterization that the weapon was secured.
Police are still investigating the case and have not announced any charges. Legal experts say it is unlikely the 6-year-old will be charged since children under 7 are presumed not to be able to form the intent to carry out an illegal act. Police said they are exploring the possibility of charging the boy’s mother for failing to secure the gun.
The boy’s family members expressed sympathy for Zwerner in a statement last week, and said their son suffers from an unspecified “acute disability.”
“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’s statement said. “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.”