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Newport News Superintendent discusses safety, security measures after shooting at elementary school

Newport News Public Schools leaders are talking with teachers and staff about what safety measures they want to see, in order to feel safe again.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The Richneck Elementary School tragedy isn't the first shooting the Newport News Public Schools division has had to deal with in recent years.

In September 2021, a 15-year-old student opened fire inside Heritage High School and shot two other students, who were hurt but survived.

Three months after that, a 17-year-old boy was shot and killed in the Menchville High School parking lot during a basketball game.

Now, the Newport News community is trying to understand why a six-year-old is suspected of shooting his first-grade teacher at Richneck Elementary on Friday.

Monday afternoon, the city's superintendent, Dr. George Parker, shared more safety details after this latest incident.

“This incident right here would cause us to rethink how we handle our youngest children coming in of our division,” Parker said.

Parker said the administration is looking into adding metal detectors in all buildings, including elementary schools.

“And I don’t believe anything would have avoided this circumstance right here, unless kids walked through a metal detector, so that is something we have to consider moving forward,” he said.

Hours after the news conference, a large group of people gathered to support Abby Zwerner, the 25-year-old woman who was shot in the upper chest. 

They all wore green and black, Richneck Elementary School colors, and prayed for Zwerner.

“As a kindergarten teacher, we talk about teaching our students to understand how to interact in society,” Debbi Downs said.

She teaches at Katherine Johnson Elementary in Newport News. She believes one way to help increase safety is to be more aware of students’ behavior.

“One of the things that we really need to do is to spot the cues that will let us know when our kids need help,” Downs said.

Parker said before any major decisions are made, he has to talk to Richneck Elementary staff and parents.

“I want to work on the mental health of the staff," he said, "and really build out a plan with their input that will allow us to proceed forward with their cooperation and the cooperation of our parents and families."

Parker said school division staff are planning to have a virtual town hall on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. 

He said they are still working on details about that event to send out to parents and staff.

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