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How school leadership, security in Newport News have changed since Richneck Elementary shooting

Since a student shot 1st-grade teacher Abby Zwerner, Newport News has shuffled its school leadership and expanded security across city schools. Here's a closer look.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — On January 6 shortly after 2 p.m., 13News Now received an alert about a heavy police presence at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News. 

Our team of reporters and photographers rushed to the scene to try to gather all the information quickly to let parents know why Newport News police officers and other agencies were blocking off the parking lot of the school. 

Just a few hours later, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew stood in front of a crowd of cameras to tell thousands of viewers that a then-6-year-old student intentionally shot his teacher, Abby Zwerner, inside a classroom. The moment shocked the Hampton Roads community and eventually the nation.

School leadership changes since the January Richneck shooting

The name of Zwerner and the discussions surrounding what led up to the tragic moment became the top headlines for several weeks and, even months later, is still a big topic in the community. 

It's the same headline, the same moment that drew Carl Murray Jr. back home.

"I was in Albemarle County, working as a school safety school coordinator, when I got the call from my mom saying there was a shooting at Richneck," Murray said.

The Newport News native started his early childhood education at Richneck.

"I have family here, so the first thing I wanted to do was just get home to my family and be a support to do whatever I could after what happened," Murray explained.

Murray's experience as a school resource officer, security expert, and chief of police brought him to different parts of Virginia and North Carolina in the last 18 years. However, a conversation with his family shortly after the tragedy at Richneck inspired him to come back home as the school division's new safety and security director.

"My mom talked about being able to come back home and use those skills that I had to come back here," Murray said. "The first thing I said was, 'God, if you ever opened up a door for me to come back home, I want to come back home, to serve and help the people I grew up with...'"

Since the shooting, dozens of school board meetings and press conferences played host to teachers, parents, and community members expressing serious concerns about school safety. 

School board members voted to fire then-Superintendent Dr. George Parker III, while the assistant principal of Richneck resigned and the principal took a different role within the school division. Dr. Michele Mitchell took over as interim superintendent until she signed on for the role permanently in late July.

RELATED: Dr. Michele Mitchell appointed Newport News Public Schools superintendent, community weighs in

Changes in school leadership aren't the only change that occurred since the shooting. 

Newport News Public Schools ramps up security across city

School administrators budgeted to pay for weapons detection systems to place them in every single school across the division, including Richneck.

Originally, the elementary school shared a school security officer with another elementary school. The officer would only spend a portion of the day at each school.

Now, school division leaders hired an additional 45 school security officers to make sure there is someone always monitoring the schools and their weapons detection systems. 

Murray will oversee these new strategies, including all of the school resource officers. 

"My priority is to make sure I keep everybody safe. The principals, the students, the faculty. My priorities are making sure parents know their children are safe," Murray said.

RELATED: Back to School: The new principals coming to schools in the 757

"Another one of priorities is to make sure we're building those relationships and making sure we're strengthening those partnerships with the police department and the SROs."

Monday, Aug. 28 marks the first day of school for Newport News students. 

13News Now reached out to speak with the new principal of Richneck Elementary, Jacky Barber, about the new year, but she declined to speak with us at this time.

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