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Virginia teacher shot by first-grader sues school officials for $40M

The 25-year-old teacher claims administrators did nothing after hearing that the child had a gun.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (CN) — Abigail Zwerner, the Virginia teacher who suffered critical injuries after being shot by her first-grade student in January, is seeking $40 million from school administrators who she claims failed to heed multiple warnings about the armed child. 

Zwerner, 25, says that three staff members told administrators at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News multiple times that the 6-year-old student had a gun before he shot her on Jan. 6. 

The first-grade teacher is suing the Newport News School Board as well as Richneck's former principal Briana Foster Newton, former assistant principal Ebony Parker and ex-superintendent George Parker for gross negligence and failure to report the weapon to authorities.

"We're going to hold those accountable for what happened to her, for the tragedy that was completely preventable," attorney Diane Toscano of Toscano Law Group said on NBC's "Today" show Monday morning.

According to the 20-page lawsuit, the assistant principal was warned three times on the day of the shooting that the student had a firearm. The student allegedly had a lengthy history of behavioral issues dating to kindergarten, where he allegedly strangled a teacher, and had destroyed Zwerner's phone two days before the shooting. 

“All Defendants knew that John Doe attacked students and teachers alike, and his motivation to injure was directed toward anyone in his path, both in and out of school, and was not limited to teachers while at the school," the lawsuit states, according to the Associated Press.

Zwerner claims she told the assistant principal hours before the shooting that the boy was in a violent mood and was threatening another student. The lawsuit alleges Ebony Parker failed to give a response and even refused to look up at Zwerner when she expressed her concerns.

Abby Zwerner, a first-grade teacher who was shot and wounded by a 6-year-old student in Virginia, speaks to Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. (NBC News via AP)

After seeing the boy remove something from his backpack, Zwerner says she told another teacher that she suspected the boy had a firearm, but the other teacher failed to find anything while searching his bag. Other teachers then informed the assistant principal that the boy might be concealing the weapon in his pocket, but Parker insisted that the boy's pockets were too small to hold a gun, according to the suit. 

After recess, a fellow student reportedly told a teacher that the boy had shown him the gun and threatened to shoot them if they told anyone. Around 45 minutes before the shooting, the complaint states, a guidance counselor told the assistant principal they also suspected the boy of having a gun but were told not to search him. 

"Eventually a teacher comes down there and says 'one of the students has actually seen the gun,'" co-counsel Jeff Breit of the law firm Breit Biniazan said on the "Today" show. "You have a ticking time bomb in the school, and the school failed to do anything about it." 

Shortly before 2 p.m., the boy shot Zwerner in the chest and hand, causing a lung to collapse. Despite being critically wounded, Zwerner herded the other students out of the classroom and even managed to make her way to the front office before collapsing. 

"I was terrified," Zwerner said in an interview with the "Today" show in March. "In that moment, my initial reaction was, 'your kids need to get out of here.'" 

Another teacher restrained the shooter, according to the police.

Zwerner has undergone four surgeries since the shooting.

The school board terminated superintendent George Parker while the assistant principal Ebony Parker, of no relation, resigned.

An attorney for Newton, the former principal, told reporters in February that Newtown was not informed the student had a gun in school, and she was reassigned to a different school following the shooting. 

Newport News Commonwealth's Attorney Howard E. Gwynn has yet to file any criminal charges related to the shooting, and has told reporters that he is not planning on charging the boy. The gun came from the boy's home, where an attorney representing the family said the gun, belonging to his mother, was in a locked box. It is still uncertain whether the parents will face any charges. 

Zwerner's attorneys believe that the school board will argue that the shooting is a workers' compensation issue. They contend that being shot by a student is not part of a teacher's job description. 

"It's not a part of their job," Breit told the "Today" show. "It's not a night 7-11 worker, and so I think the workers' comp argument is going to fail." 

Categories / Education, Employment, Personal Injury, Regional

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