6-year-old in custody after shooting teacher in Virginia, police chief says

By Amanda Musa, Jennifer Feldman, Christina Maxouris and Hannah Sarisohn, CNN

Updated 6:18 PM EST, Sat January 7, 2023

CNN — 

A 6-year-old boy was taken into police custody after he shot a teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, Friday afternoon, Police Chief Steve Drew said in a news conference.

“The individual is a 6-year-old student,” Drew said. “We have been in contact with our commonwealth attorney and some other entities to help us best get services to this young man.”

Students and police gather outside of Richneck Elementary School after a shooting, Friday, January 6, 2023, in Newport News, Virginia.Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot/AP

Drew said the female teacher was shot inside a classroom and added that “this was not an accidental shooting.”

The police chief said there was an altercation between the teacher and the student, who had the firearm, and that a single round was fired. No other students were involved, he added. 

Authorities and the Newport News public school district did not identify the teacher or the student involved in the shooting. 

But the teacher was identified by her alma mater, James Madison University, as Abby Zwerner. 

“All of us as James Madison University are deeply saddened by the reported tragic shooting of JMU alumna Abby Zwerner,” university President Jonathan R. Alger said in a statement posted on the school’s official Facebook page. 

“JMU is prepared to support those impacted by this incident now and in the weeks to come,” the statement added. 

Zwerner is listed as a first-grade teacher in Richneck Elementary School’s staff directory.

Teacher in stable condition, police say

In a Saturday statement, the Newport News Police Department said the teacher had improved and was listed in stable condition, adding the chief had met with her and her family. 

“Chief Drew asked that you continue to keep her in your thoughts and prayers,” police said. A day earlier, the chief had described the teacher’s injuries as life-threatening.

An investigation is ongoing, police said. 

“We’ll get the investigation done, there’s questions we’ll want to ask and find out about. I want to know where that firearm came from, what was the situation,” Drew said in Friday’s news conference.

‘Impossible to wrap our minds around’

Newport News Mayor Phillip D. Jones said Saturday authorities were working to answer questions the community has grappled with since the shooting. 

“It is almost impossible to wrap our minds around the fact that a 6 year old 1st grader brought a loaded handgun to school and shot a teacher; however, this is exactly what our community is grappling with today,” the mayor said in a statement posted on Twitter. 

Authorities are “working diligently to get an answer to the question we are all asking – how did this happen? We are also working to ensure the child receives the supports and services he needs as we continue to process what took place,” Jones said.

Speaking during Friday’s news conference, Newport News Public Schools Superintendent Dr. George Parker said he was saddened by the shooting and called for better gun safety measures from the community to keep firearms away from children.

“I’m in shock, and I’m disheartened,” Parker said in Friday’s news conference. “We need to educate our children and we need to keep them safe.”

“We need the community’s support, continued support, to make sure that guns are not available to youth and I’m sounding like a broken record today, because I continue to reiterate that: that we need to keep the guns out of the hands of our young people,” the superintendent said. 

Officials are also looking into any past instances that may have transpired before the shooting, Parker added.

Elementary school closed Monday and Tuesday

The elementary school will remain closed Monday and Tuesday to give the community “time to heal,” Principal Briana Foster Newton said in a statement, adding that officials will update families if the closure is extended.

“My heart is aching for our school community,” the principal said. “My thoughts and prayers remain with our teacher who was seriously injured, and our students and our staff, who are dealing with the aftereffects of this tragedy.”

In a separate statement, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin said his administration offered assistance in response to the shooting and “stand at the ready to help in any way we can.”

“I am continuing to monitor the situation and am praying for the continued safety of all students and the community,” the governor said Friday.

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