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

Police Chief Steve Drew also said the 9mm handgun had been legally purchased by the boy's mother.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A coalition of Newport News police officers, school officials, and city lawmakers came together on Monday to speak about a case where a 6-year-old child is accused of shooting his teacher at Richneck Elementary School.

The shooting happened Friday afternoon on Tyner Drive around 2 p.m. Emergency teams rushed to the school to make sure the children were alright, and to help 25-year-old Abby Zwerner, a first-grade teacher at Richneck Elementary. 

She'd been shot and was seriously hurt. Police took a 6-year-old student into custody. Medics took Zwerner to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, but over the weekend, her condition has slightly improved, according to Police Chief Steve Drew.

During the press conference, Drew offered the first description of how the shooting happened. He had previously said that the shooting was not accidental and declined to elaborate.

He now says 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, he said.

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.

Drew described Zwerner as a hero, who made sure all of her students got out of the room and into other classrooms before she went to get help for herself. He said she was the last one out of the classroom, and even turned back, when she was walking to administration, to make sure the children were secure.

Zwerner is currently in stable condition in an area hospital.

The police chief has been visiting her since she was admitted. He said her first question, when they met, was "Do you know how my students are?"

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Superintendent Dr. George Parker II said supporting the students and staff was his highest priority. 

Classes at Richneck Elementary School have been canceled through the end of the week, and Monday, staff members had a virtual meeting with Parker. He said he's talking with them about what safety measures they'd like to see in place before returning to instruction.

The child was taken to a local hospital, evaluated, and is receiving care, Drew said. He's still considered "in custody" at the hospital.

Drew said Child Protective Services is part of the group that will advise the police department on how to handle this unprecedented case.

A judge will decide what happens to the child, next.

There are still lingering questions in the case. Teachers and school staff members have asked if there were any warning signs that this child had violent intentions.

Police haven't said if they're charging the boy in this shooting -- but legal analysts say that even if he is charged, he's not old enough to be charged as an adult.

Drew also said the gun had been legally purchased by the boy's mother, but it wasn't yet clear how the 6-year-old got ahold of the weapon. That's something they'll have to verify with interviews and further police work.

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Monday afternoon, 13News Now spoke to Rick Fogle. He said he's the father of Richneck Elementary School's nurse, and a grandfather of her second-grade son.

Fogle told us his grandson was in a classroom near where the shooting happened, but he is safe and doing okay.

His daughter rushed a group of students into a locked room after they heard the gunshot.

"She took care of them in a great way. They were probably safer with her than anywhere else in the building. Where she worked, there were rooms and side rooms where they had two locked doors between them,” Fogle explained. “So, the students... one of the students was telling them to be quiet... and it's because they trained so much."

Fogle said he couldn't believe it when he heard a six-year-old boy was responsible for the shooting. He said his daughter did what she had to do.

"I thought she was very brave doing that, because her son is out at that wing where this was occurring. He's not in that class, but he was in that wing with the second and first graders," Fogle explained. "I thought she did good."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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