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6-year-old's backpack was searched before shooting, school officials say

The superintendent told parents in a town hall to families that the student's backpack was searched after they got a tip he may have had a weapon.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — New details are revealing more about the hours leading up to the shooting at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News. A 6-year-old boy is accused of intentionally shooting his first-grade teacher, Abby Zwerner. 

Zwerner, 25, was taken to the hospital with serious injuries, but her condition is reported to have improved. 

Thursday night, school officials invited families to a virtual town hall to discuss safety measures for the elementary school going forward, and during that meeting, they unveiled new details about Friday's incident.

Superintendent Dr. George Parker III said the boy accused in the shooting arrived to 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. A few hours later, Zwerner had been shot. The school division did not say who searched the boy's bag. 

Richneck families on Thursday also learned the timeline for their students' return to the classroom is uncertain. In the meantime, administrators are working to make changes meant to improve safety and security at the school.

Still, concerns linger for some parents, like Mark Anthony Garcia, Sr. 

Newport News Public Schools Spokesperson Michelle Price told media outlets that Thursday night's virtual town hall was for families only. After the meeting, we met with Garcia, who recounted what Dr. Parker said during the meeting. 

Students can't return to Richneck for at least another week, Garcia told 13News Now. 

"[Dr. Parker] said they're getting [clear] backpacks and now they're putting metal detectors and now putting doors in, these are the things that us parents already spoke about before. Now, they're trying to implement after the fact."

"Why are we just now doing this now?" Garcia asked, referring to the September 2021 shooting at Heritage High School and the December 2021 shooting outside Menchville High School following a basketball game.

Dr. Parker previously advocated for random and sporadic metal detection.

After listening to the town hall, Garcia said that the boy suspected in the shooting may have carried the gun on his person and not his backpack.

"We missed the security measures beforehand," Garcia said. 

He said he's also upset, finding out Thursday, that Richneck's front door buzzer didn't work properly before or after Friday's shooting.

"We're just now finding out information that is detrimental to the security of our children, staff and faculty," Garcia added.

He said that administrators are trying to bring a designated school resource officer to Richneck, as well as boost security outside.

Garcia is among hundreds of Richneck parents navigating the next steps. His second-grade son, while anxious, is eager to get back to a routine.

"It's a different feeling for him," said Garcia. "Yes, I feel a little bit uneasy because I'm going to make sure that my son goes to the third grade, but gets through the second grade knowing how to read and write." 

Parents will get information soon about picking up lesson packets for their children, Garcia mentioned. 

He additionally praised Richneck teachers and staff for their hard work, and he said he's praying for Zwerner, as well as the child accused of pulling the trigger.

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