NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — As a community in Newport News looks to heal, parents, teachers and students are demanding change from division leaders.
Tuesday marked 11 days since a shooting inside Richneck Elementary School. A 6-year-old boy intentionally shot his first-grade teacher, Abby Zwerner, in the middle of class, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said.
School board members on Tuesday also held their first open meeting since the incident.
Among those who raised concerns was Desiree Yvette, a Richneck parent who only wanted to go by her first name.
Desiree said her first-grade daughter escaped from the classroom where the shooting happened earlier this month. And despite new safety measures announced, Desiree said her daughter will not go back to Richneck.
"She's 6, she's terrified because the person who was advocating for her got hurt," Desiree said before school board members.
Prior to addressing the board, Desiree spoke with 13News Now via Zoom. She recalled a flood of emotions on the day of the shooting.
"I was scared for any of the kids to have had witnessed this, but I was more scared that my daughter was witnessing this," Desiree said tearfully.
She called Zwerner a hero for her actions day.
Chief Drew has told members of the media repeatedly that, through viewing hallway surveillance video, Zwerner prioritized her students' safety, allowing them to evacuate although she had been shot and injured.
Zwerner was then seen leaving the room and then backtracking to ensure all children had left, Drew also said.
"She has always said those are her kids. It was heartbreaking and it was the most brave thing I've heard," said Desiree. "She is honestly an earth angel. She's the kindest person. She's so supportive of her students."
Updates from Richneck Elementary and division administrators have indicated Zwerner's health is improving every day.
In wake of the shooting, Newport News administrators put together a slideshow presentation. It stated the crisis is currently in the "rescue phase," with a goal to ensure safety and keep up communication.
School leaders said they have held faculty meetings and a town hall.
Among other safety measures, they pledged to have a full-time security guard, a fully-staffed front office, access to a security wand and a metal detector set up on campus Thursday.
Administrators are also considering clear backpacks and added security, according to the slides presented Tuesday night.
"I think those are things that should have been already implemented before this happened," said Desiree. "Listen to your teachers. Listen to your staff. Listen to them when they're asking for help. Listen to them when they're showing up every day, asking for support and how to help a student or students."
Desiree pleaded with the school board and administrators to move forward with honesty and transparency and "also listen to the parents."
Classes are still canceled this week at Richneck. Before students can come back to the classroom, administrators also said they want to set up parent focus groups and an on-campus orientation.
There is still no date announced for students' return to the classroom.
Desiree additionally voiced concern, on the heels of Superintendent Dr. George Parker III's confirmation that at least one administrator knew of a report the Richneck student suspected in the shooting may have had a weapon.
The child's backpack was searched, but no weapon was found, Parker said in a town hall last week.
Desiree believes more steps could have been taken, "To remove all of those students and the teacher from that classroom, while they search the classroom or anywhere else."
In the process of healing, Desiree wants to connect with other families and staff members affected by the incident at Richneck on January 6. She said anyone who needs a shoulder to lean on or a listening ear can reach out to her at email@example.com.