NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A Newport News school teacher is being hailed a hero for her actions inside Richneck Elementary School, after police said a 6-year-old boy pulled out a gun and intentionally shot her on Friday.
Abby Zwerner, 25, was hit in the chest and hand by a single bullet in the middle of a lesson, Police Chief Steve Drew said during a Monday afternoon news conference.
Drew mentioned meeting with Zwerner twice since the incident. During both visits, Drew said, Zwerner expressed concern about her students, and asked how they are doing.
Meanwhile, dozens gathered outside the Newport News Public Schools administration building Monday night to pray for Zwerner and her recovery.
The vigil's organizer, Amanda Bartley, is a local school teacher herself.
"We have to show our support for our own. We have to show support for Ms. Abby, for the students and for all the staff at Richneck," Bartley told 13News Now. "I wholeheartedly believe that prayer works, and this seems like the most appropriate thing to do."
Councilman John Eley III said a prayer before the crowd.
"Lord, all I can say -- we right now, in Newport News -- is we need you. We call on you right now. Bless Abby. Give her family the strength they need to get through this."
Friends and co-workers described Zwerner as graceful and compassionate, with an always-smiling face.
"Abby is a warrior. She demonstrates mental and physical strength every day," said Rosalie List, a second-grade teacher at Richneck Elementary School. "Seeing her smile down the hall from, getting to eat lunch with her and just being in her presence, has helped me grow as a teacher and as a person."
"You can go in, feel better, and then leave, having a better day after talking with her," said Lauren Palladini, a professional school counselor at Richneck. "I feel better as I hear that she's feeling better. So, if this can help her feel, even emotionally better, then that's good for all of us."
The first-grade teacher is recovering from serious injuries. Drew said her health had slightly improved, as of Monday.
"Abigail is a 25-year-old teacher and she is a trooper," the chief said.
Despite sustaining gunshot injuries, Drew said Zwerner made it a point to prioritize the children.
"She was still able to get all of her students out of that classroom," Drew said, after viewing surveillance footage. "She made a right turn and started down the hallway, and then she stopped. She turned around, she turned around to make sure every one of those students was safe."
The crowd Monday night also lifted up prayers for all Richneck students, including the suspect, as well as staff members.
"Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me," the crowd sang in unison.
Richneck's principal said in a message to families that students will have the entire week off, to give them additional time to heal.
Monday marked the third day of the police investigation, and the first day of the school division's compliance investigation, officials said.