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What we know about the Richneck Elementary School shooting

The shooting happened on Jan. 6 inside a classroom when a six-year-old boy shot first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner, 25.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The Newport News community continues to grapple with the shooting of a Richneck Elementary School teacher, a tragedy that has raised questions on school safety, administrative actions and how a child got his hands on a gun.

The shooting happened on Jan. 6 inside a classroom when a six-year-old boy shot first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner, 25. Her injuries were critical, but she made progress in recovering and has since been released from the hospital.

The student was taken into custody and to a hospital to be evaluated and cared for, according to Newport News police. Because he's a minor, his identity is unknown.

The school has been closed since the shooting, but students returned Monday, January 30.

Here's everything we know about how the shooting itself and the aftermath unfolded.

January 6 – Student shot teacher at Richneck Elementary

In a news conference, city officials said the shooting was not accidental, that it happened in a first-grade classroom when a student started arguing with a teacher and that the teacher's injuries were life-threatening. Everyone else in the school building was safe.

The school was put on lockdown around 2 p.m. as police responded to reports of a shooting. It was lifted around 3:20 p.m., and officers reunited parents with their students at a reunification site.

READ MORE | 6-year-old shoots teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News 

January 7 – Teacher identified as Abby Zwerner

James Madison University confirmed the teacher is an alumna of their school, Abby Zwerner.

"We offer prayers and best wishes for Abby's health and recovery and want to do all we can to support Abby, her family and friends, fellow teachers and current students and their families at this incredibly difficult time," JMU President Jonathan R. Alger wrote in a statement.

READ MORE | JMU identifies teacher shot in Newport News as an alumna of their school

January 9 – Police detailed how the shooting unfolded

During a press conference, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew offered the first description of how the shooting happened.

He said Zwerner was teaching when the student pulled a handgun out, pointed it at the teacher, and fired at her. He said there was no physical struggle over the gun preceding the gunshot, and no indication (at this point) that they were having an argument.

The gun wasn't in his backpack, it was on the child's person, Drew said. The bullet went through Zwerner's outstretched hand and lodged in her upper chest.

Another staff member was nearby, and she went into the classroom to restrain the little boy until police and sheriff's deputies arrived.

The first 911 call about this shooting came in at 1:59 p.m., and officers were in the classroom at 2:04 p.m. Medics reached Zwerner at 2:09 p.m.

READ MORE | Newport News police, school officials say 6-year-old allegedly shot teacher while she was instructing

January 12 - NNPS announced purchase of metal detectors for all schools

Newport News School Board Chairwoman Lisa Surles-Law announced that all schools in the city would get metal detectors as officials grappled with how to improve safety.

Surles-Law said the detectors would go to Richneck first, so they will be there when the building reopens. The rest of the detectors will go in every school in the district, with some schools having more than one.

All students, faculty and staff will have to walk through the detectors.

READ MORE | Newport News to put metal detectors in all schools, officials say

January 13 – Student's backpack was searched before shooting, school officials confirmed

During a virtual town hall, Superintendent Dr. George Parker III said the boy accused in the shooting arrived at school late that morning, and that his backpack was searched after someone reported he may have had a weapon. 

The person who searched the child's bag didn't find a weapon. The school division did not say who searched the boy's bag.

On the same day, a spokesperson confirmed that Karen Lynch, an extended learning supervisor for the school system, was now leading the Richneck Elementary team, taking on some of the responsibilities of the principal.


January 19 – Family of student says gun used was 'secured'

The family of a 6-year-old boy released a statement saying that the gun he used had been "secured."

The family's statement was released by an attorney and didn't elaborate further on where the gun was kept. The family also was not identified.

The family also said that the boy "suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day." However, the statement said the parents did not accompany him to class the day of the shooting.

On the same day, school officials announced plans to transition Richneck students back to the building but said an opening date would come later.


January 23 – Officials announced reopening date for Richneck

More than two weeks after the shooting, a text message sent by the school division to Richneck families said the school will "reopen for all students on Monday, Jan. 30."

READ MORE | Richneck Elementary School to reopen for class on January 30

January 25 – Abby Zwerner's attorney announced lawsuit; School leadership changes confirmed

The Newport News School Board approved a separation agreement and severance with Superintendent Dr. George Parker III during a special meeting.

Surles-Law said Parker was "a capable division leader who has served Newport News for nearly five years through some extremely challenging circumstances. This decision is based on the future trajectory and needs of our school division."

Earlier, the attorney representing Zwerner announced her intent to file a lawsuit against Newport News Public Schools. 

Attorney Diane Toscano claimed that teachers and employees warned administrators three different times that the student had a gun and was threatening people the day of the shooting.

On the same day, a school spokesperson confirmed that Dr. Ebony Parker resigned as Richneck's assistant principal.


January 30 – Students return to the classroom

Weeks after the shooting, students returned to the classroom at Richneck. New safety precautions, such as a metal detector at the entrance, were put in place at the school.

The consensus of the children 13News Now spoke to walking out of class was that they missed their classmates and were bored during their three weeks at home.


February 1 – NNPS confirms Richneck principal reassigned

The principal at Richneck Elementary School has been reassigned, weeks after a 6-year-old student shot his first-grade teacher, a spokesperson for Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) confirmed.

Michelle Price with NNPS said Briana Foster-Newton is still employed with the school division, but she didn't specify in what capacity.

On the same day, employment attorney Pamela Branch announced she will hold a press conference in Richmond Thursday afternoon to issue Newton's first statement since the Jan. 6 shooting.

READ MORE | Richneck principal reassigned, attorney to make public statement 

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