A first-grade teacher in Virginia who was shot and seriously injured by her 6-year-old student filed a lawsuit against school officials on Monday, accusing them of gross negligence for allegedly ignoring multiple warnings on the day of the shooting that the boy had a gun and was in a “violent mood.”
Abby Zwerner, a 25-year-old teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, was shot in the hand and chest while sitting at a reading table in her classroom on Jan. 6. She was in the hospital for nearly two weeks and has had four surgeries since the shooting.
The shooting shook the military shipbuilding community and sent shockwaves across the country, with many people wondering how a child so young could get a gun and shoot his teacher.
The Newport News School Board and several school district officials, including former Superintendent George Parker III, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Michelle Price, a school board spokesperson, Lisa Surles-Law, chair of the school board, and other board members did not respond immediately to emails seeking comment on the lawsuit. The former superintendent did not immediately respond to a message left on his cellphone seeking comment.
No one, including the boy, has been charged in connection with the shooting. Following the shooting, the school board fired the superintendent, and the assistant principal resigned. The principal was moved to another position within the school district. The board also agreed to install metal detectors in all district schools, beginning with Richneck, and to buy clear backpacks for all students.
According to Zwerner’s attorneys, all of the defendants were aware that the boy “had a history of random violence” at school and at home, including an incident the previous year in which he “strangled and choked” his kindergarten teacher.
“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 lawsuit, school officials removed the boy from Richneck and sent him to another school for the remainder of the year, but allowed him to return to Richneck for first grade in the fall of 2022. He was put on a modified schedule “because he was chasing students around the playground with a belt in an attempt to whip them with it,” according to the report, and he was cursing staff and teachers. The modified schedule required one of the boy’s parents to accompany him to school during the day.
“Teachers’ concerns with John Doe’s behavior (were) regularly brought to the attention of Richneck Elementary School administration, and the concerns were always dismissed,” the lawsuit states. Often after he was taken to the office, “he would return to class shortly thereafter with some type of reward, such as a piece of candy,” according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the boy’s parents refused to have him placed in special education classes with other students who had behavioral issues.
According to the lawsuit, Zwerner suffered permanent bodily injuries, physical pain, mental anguish, lost earnings, and other damages. It is suing for $40 million in compensatory damages.
Last month, Newport News prosecutor Howard Gwynn stated that his office will not charge the boy criminally because he would not understand the legal system and what a charge entails. Gwynn has yet to decide whether or not to charge any adults.
The boy used his mother’s legally purchased gun, according to police. According to an attorney for the boy’s family, the firearm was locked and secured on a closet shelf.