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'Reckless conduct' | Documents shed new light on Richneck Elementary shooter

Abby Zwerner's attorney claims the boy previously choked a teacher until she couldn't breathe, that he cursed at staff and tried to whip classmates with his belt.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Richneck Elementary School teacher Abby Zwerner and her attorney Diane Toscano have notified Newport News Public Schools of their intent to sue after Zwerner was shot by one of her students on January 6.

Families of two Richneck students also intend to sue the school division, according to claim notices their lawyers sent to NNPS that 13News Now obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The claim notices, otherwise known as letters of intent to sue, reveal detailed information about what happened at the school on the day of the shooting as well as new information about a history of behavioral problems the accused shooter had at the school.

Abby Zwerner's claims

In a press conference, Toscano previously stated that Richneck Elementary School administrators were notified by at least three different staff members that the student had a gun at the school on the day of the shooting. 

Now, for the first time, Assistant Principal Dr. Ebony Parker has been named as the administrator who was notified, according to the letter of intent to sue that Toscano sent to the school division.

Toscano's letter alleges Parker took no action, calls her inaction “gross negligence," and says it’s a “miracle more people were not harmed.” 

Parker has since resigned from her position.

Toscano claims that around 11:30 a.m. the day of the shooting, Zwerner warned Parker the student seemed “off” and was in a “violent mood.” She said he threatened to beat up a kindergartener and angrily stared down a security officer in the lunchroom.

About 15 minutes later, Toscano claims a different teacher was told the boy had been telling classmates he had a gun. When the teacher took the initiative to search the boy’s backpack around 12:30 p.m., there was no gun and the teacher was told it was likely in the boy's pocket.

Toscano claims that teacher notified Parker and she responded dismissively, saying the shooter had "small pockets."

Then, around 1 p.m., Toscano says one of Zwerner’s students told a different teacher the shooter showed him the gun at recess and threatened to shoot him if he told anyone.

Two teachers and a guidance counselor informed Parker and, according to Toscano, were told they could not search the student’s person because his mom would be coming to pick him up soon.

Forty-five minutes later, Toscano says the boy shot Zwerner while she was sitting at her reading table.

This was, according to Toscano, not the first time Parker had witnessed or heard about the student's behavioral problems.

Toscano claims that a year prior to the shooting, the boy had choked a teacher until she couldn't breathe and was removed from school.

She said he also had a habit of cursing at staff and tried to whip classmates with his belt at recess.

And just one day before the shooting, the boy was suspended for slamming and breaking Zwerner’s phone.

According to Toscano, the events leading up to the shooting are “evidence of bad faith and reckless conduct” by administrators.

Toscano said Parker should have called police, placed the school on lockdown or evacuated the school, but did none of those things.

Through her attorney, former Richneck Principal Briana Foster-Newton maintains she was never notified about reports of a gun that day.

Toscano makes no mention of Foster-Newton in these documents. Foster-Newton has since been reassigned within the Newport News school division.

While Zwerner’s physical condition improves, Toscano said the psychological scars cut deep and will be long-lasting. Toscano said she hopes the school division will not want to drag Zwerner through litigation.

Richneck parents' claims

In another letter of intent to sue that was sent to NNPS, a mother and father of a Richneck student claim their daughter was bullied, harassed and assaulted throughout the 2022-23 school year and the school division did not take action. 

The letter does not say that the girl was bullied by the same child who shot Zwerner, but it does say she was in the same class as the shooter and witnessed the shooting on January 6, suffering "emotional harm as a result."

The third letter of intent was filed by a lawyer representing Mark Garcia Sr., the father of a Richneck second grader. It cites "injuries sustained during avschool shooting on January 6, 2023." 

Police have said that no children were physically harmed during the January 6 shooting.

None of the parties disclosed how much money they are seeking from Newport News Public Schools.

Read Toscano's letter to Newport News Public Schools below:

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