NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — A first-grade teacher in Virginia is recovering after being shot by a 6-year-old student last week, according to police.
In a press conference on Monday, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew called the shooting unprecedented and said the teacher, Abby Zwerner, saved lives that day, ushering her other students out of the classroom after being shot in the chest.
“Abigail is a trooper, she is a hero … Abigail saved lives,” Drew said, who added that when he met with her the first question she asked was “do you know how my students are?”
Zwerner, an alumna of James Madison University, was in the middle of instruction when the 6-year-old pulled out a 9mm handgun. Zwerner put her hand up to shield herself and the bullet went through her hand and into her chest.
“She made sure every one of those kids were out of that room. She was the last one to leave … after suffering a gunshot wound, to make sure her students … were safe,” Drew added. She is now listed as being in stable condition.
Drew, who praised the response from other school staff members and first responders, said there was no physical struggle over the gun preceding the gunshot. No students were injured. One unnamed school employee ran into the classroom after the shooting and was able to restrain the child until police arrived five minutes after getting the 911 call.
According to Drew, the gun was legally purchased in York County by the child’s mother. It’s still unclear how the student got ahold of the gun and brought it into Richneck Elementary. Drew says only one round was fired, but multiple rounds were inside the gun’s magazine. Authorities also seized a cell phone and a backpack from the scene.
The parents of the child later met authorities at police headquarters, where the child and mother were interviewed, Drew said. The child’s mother has not been charged in connection with the incident, and the commonwealth’s attorney’s office will review information to determine if they will be filed, Drew said. Information will include the child’s behavioral record at school.
The 6-year-old student is currently receiving treatment at a medical facility, Drew said, who emphasized the shooting wasn’t accidental. Police have declined to describe what led to the altercation or any other details about what happened in the classroom, citing the ongoing investigation.
Virginia law does not allow 6-year-olds to be tried as adults. In addition, a 6-year-old is too young to be committed to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice if found guilty. Authorities have not specified where the boy was being held.
Newport News Superintendent George Parker said he’s happy to see that Zwerner is improving and the district is offering mental health support to the school community.
Parker explained that the district has safety protocols and trains all employees for active shooter situations, but “there was no way” they were prepared for a 6-year-old to shoot a teacher, again citing its unprecedented nature.
“Who would be prepared for a six-year-old to bring a loaded weapon into school and shoot their teacher?” Parker said.
According to Parker, the district uses metal detectors at the secondary school level, but Friday’s shooting makes them consider using detectors at the elementary school level as well. He also spoke of other measures currently in place such as video surveillance.
There will be no classes for Richneck Elementary until at least the third week of January, and Parker said he is still receiving feedback from the school community on when classes should resume.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.