NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A teacher shot earlier this year by a 6-year-old student has filed a $40 million lawsuit against school officials, saying they ignored reports that the student had been seen with a gun on the day of the shooting despite his “history of random violence,” according to multiple reports.
Authorities were called to Richneck Elementary School just before 2 p.m. after police said a student intentionally shot Abigail Zwerner, 25, as she was teaching her class. Police said the single shot went through her hand and into her chest.
In a complaint filed Monday in the Virginia Circuit Court for Newport News, an attorney for Zwerner accused the school’s former principal and assistant principal, the Newport News School Board and the since-ousted superintendent of gross negligence and failing to report the weapon to authorities, according to The Washington Post. The lawsuit alleges that, on the day of the shooting, Assistant Principal Ebony Parker got three reports of the student possibly having a gun, all of which were dismissed.
On the morning of the shooting, a teacher searched the 6-year-old’s backpack after two students said he had a weapon in his bag, the complaint says, according to NBC News. The search came up empty.
Later, the teacher told Parker that she thought she might have seen the 6-year-old put something into his pocket during recess. The lawsuit alleges that Parker dismissed the teacher’s concerns, saying that the boy’s “pockets were too small to hold a handgun,” CNN reported.
After recess, a student told another teacher that the 6-year-old showed him a gun on the playground and threatened to shoot him if he told anyone, according to the Post. The teacher told Parker about the alleged sighting, the lawsuit claims.
Less than an hour before the shooting, a guidance counselor asked for permission to search the boy after warning Parker that he might have had a weapon, NBC News and the Post reported. Parker “forbade” him from initiating a search, saying that the 6-year-old’s backpack had already been checked and his mother would soon be at school to pick him up.
Police said the boy pulled out the 9mm handgun and shot Zwerner at 1:59 p.m.
In the lawsuit, Zwerner said the boy had a “history of random violence,” according to the Post. In kindergarten, the boy was removed from school after he strangled a teacher, NBC News reported, citing the complaint. That same school year, he pulled up a classmate’s dress after she fell on the playground and touched her inappropriately, the lawsuit claims.
“Teachers’ concerns with (the student’s) behavior were regularly brought to the attention of Richneck Elementary School administration, and the concerns were always dismissed,” the lawsuit says, according to NBC News. “Often when he was taken to the school office to address his behavior, he would return to the classroom shortly thereafter with some type of reward, such as a piece of candy.”
Behavioral issues were reported to school officials as early as two days before the shooting when the 6-year-old was suspended after smashing Zwerner’s phone, the Post reported.
After the shooting, the Newport News School Board voted to remove then-Superintendent George Parker III “without cause,” NBC News reported. Assistant Principal Parker — who is not related to the former superintendent — resigned and principal Briana Foster Newton was assigned to a different job, according to the news network.
The lawsuit filed Monday comes as authorities continue to weigh whether to file charges related to the shooting.
Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn told WTKR-TV last month that the 6-year-old would not face criminal charges in the shooting. Under Virginia law, children below the age of 7 are believed to not be able to form the intent to carry out a crime, the Post reported. However, charges could be filed against the boy’s parents.
In a statement obtained by WTKR, Gwynn called the shooting “incomprehensible,” adding, “our objective is the same as it has always been — to be thorough, to be objective, and to apply the law to the facts fairly and impartially. And after that analysis is done, our objective is to charge any person with any crimes that we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”
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