Abigail Zwerner, a Virginia teacher fired nearly three months after a five-year-old student, injured the educator in filing a $40 million lawsuit Monday, alleging that school administrators ignored numerous warnings from staff and students who believed the boy had a gun and posed a threat. he threatened to shoot an arrow that day, and did so, knowing that the boy “had a history of random violence.”
On June 6 at Zwerner’s school at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, the country fell asleep, as officials reported the boy’s voluntary actions. The student shot Zwerner with a 9mm handgun as he sat at a reading desk in the first grade of the school, according to officials.
The complaint, which was filed in Newport News Circuit Court, says Richneck wanted assistant principal Ebony Parker to “breach her duty” to protect Zwerner, “despite multiple reports that the firearm was in the school’s possession and was likely to be in the possession of the violent individual.”
Parker resigned in case of shooting. He could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Also named as defendants were the Newport School Board, former school Superintendent George Parker III, whom the board decided to remove “without cause,” and Richneck Principal Briana Foster Newton, who was transferred to different roles in the district.
Zwerner, 25, asks the judge, noting in his case that he is suffering “physical pain and mental anguish.”
New Port Police praised Zwerner for still managing to lead her group of about 20 students to safety even after she was seriously wounded in the arm and chest.
Lawyers for Zwerner testified Monday on NBC’s “TODAY” show that school officials knew on at least three separate occasions that the boy was believed to have a gun and was told by another student that he saw it.
Attorney Jeffrey Breit disagrees with the opinion that Zwerner’s negligence suit should be workers’ compensation under Virginia law since, theoretically, workers cannot sue their employers.
But he said the shooting was “an exception” because “no 6-year-old student is going to risk shooting a teacher. It’s not part of their job. 7-Eleven is not a night employee.”
The school was aware of the boy’s behavior problems
The lawsuit mentions new details about the 6-year-old boy, who has been identified as John Doe, and his alleged pattern of abusive behavior.
While in kindergarten at Richneck during the 2021-22 school year, the boy was strangled and choked by a teacher and was removed from school, according to the complaint.
During the same school year, the boy also pulled out a woman’s dress that had fallen in the ditch, the complaint says, and “began to touch the boy inappropriately until he was reprimanded by the teacher.”
The boy was transferred from Richneck and placed in different institutions within the territory, but was allowed to return for the 2022-23 school year, when he was enrolled in Zwerner’s class.
He was eventually placed on a modified schedule after the fall “chasing students around the playground with a belt in an attempt to beat them with it, as well as cursing at staff and teachers,” according to the complaint. At least one parent attends school with him every day because of his excessive tendencies.
“The teacher’s behavior with John Doe was regularly brought to the attention of the Richneck school administration, and the concerns were always dismissed,” the lawsuit says. “Often when he was brought to the school office to appeal to his behavior, he returned to school shortly after with some kind of reward, such as candy.”
The warnings were allegedly ignored
On Jan. 4, two days before the shooting, the boy grabbed Zwerner’s cell phone and slammed it to the ground, breaking the device, according to the complaint. The boy was hanged until the next day.
On Jan. 6, the boy returned to Richneck, but his mother didn’t stay at school that day as requested, the complaint says the school didn’t assign him a “one-on-one count.”
Between 11:15 and 11:30 p.m., Zwerner went to Parker’s assistant principal and said the student appeared “in a violent mood” and threatened to physically attack a classmate. According to the complaint, Parker “didn’t have a response” and another teacher observed that the administrator “basically neglected the plaintiff’s concerns.”
Meanwhile, another teacher was informed by two students that the boy had a gun in his backpack, the suit says. The teacher later informed Parker that he believed the boy had a gun and that he thought he had seen the item placed in his sweatshirt pocket during his retreat and also searched his backpack, but found no weapon. Parker replied that the boy’s “pockets were too narrow to hold his hands and arms and nothing,” he says, was a complaint.
Then, on a third afternoon, Parker told the boy that he had pointed a gun at another student during recess, and that student told the other teacher the boy would “get hurt if someone told him,” according to the complaint.
A fourth employee asked Parker to search the boy, but he “stopped” him, according to the lawsuit, saying that the boy’s backpack had already been searched and that the boy’s mother was going to pick him up.
At 1:59 a.m., while Zwerner was reading at his desk at school, the boy pulled out a gun and opened fire.
More in Virginia, the teacher who was fired
Potential criminal charges pending
A spokesman for Newport News Public Schools could not immediately be reached for comment Monday about Zwerner’s lawsuit. Neither the high school superintendent nor an attorney for Newton, the former Richneck principal, could immediately be reached for comment.
Newton’s lawyer previously said: “The reality is that those who knew the student had a gun on the premises that day did not report it to Ms Newton.”
The district previously said it could not comment on the allegations against school officials in the ongoing internal investigation, nor would it share any information on the student writer’s institution as part of the criminal investigation.
The district also said in an earlier statement that the health and safety of students and staff members are its top priorities.
“We will continue to do whatever it takes to ensure a safe and secure teaching and learning environment across all our schools,” he said.
Newport News Attorney Howard Gwynn told NBC News last month that he would pursue charges against the 6-year-old boy, citing his age and inability to understand the legal system’s adequacy, but said he was still weighing whether to hold an adult. to be held criminally
The family of the 6-year-old boy said in a statement in January that the gun was “safe” at home and “always believed responsible for gun ownership and keeping firearms away from children.”
The family also said the boy had an acute disability and was receiving “the treatment he needs” under court-ordered temporary detention at a medical facility.
The family’s attorney, James Ellenson, said last month that he “welcomes the prosecutor’s decision” not to seek charges against the boy and “will continue to pray for Ms. Zwerner’s full recovery.”
It happened at Richneck- a rare example The reversal by a child under 10 at a US school comes after two other shootings in Newport News schools in the past 18 months.
The overall number of blackouts reached the highest number in two decades in the 2020-21 school year, according to a federal report in June 2022. A week ago, a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, saw six people killed, including. A substitute teacher and three children, in the hands of a 28-year-old former student, were armed with two AR-style weapons and a handgun.
Diane Toscano, another attorney representing Zwerner, said Monday that it was “insulting” that a first-grade teacher is such a person that her client should assume that shooting is part of the job.
“His future is uncertain,” Toscano said. “He loved being a teacher, he loved teaching children, but the emotional trauma sustained was incredible.”
Zwerner, in an interview on NBC’s “TODAY” show two weeks ago, said he is still in pain and has undergone multiple surgeries and grueling physical therapy. The lump and fragments of the gland still lying in his chest were added.
While she refused to talk about the reason for the attack in detail, the memory of that time remains in her mind.
“I’ll just never forget the look on his face that he gave me as he pointed the gun directly at me,” Zwerner said.
The injured left hand still makes the simplest tasks, such as making a fist, opening a water bottle and getting dressed very difficult, and he said doctors still doubt whether the function will be fully restored.
“I’m not sure when I’ll ever go away shocked, because it was just how surreal it was and, you know, I have vivid memories of that day,” Zwerner said. “I think about it every day. Sometimes I have dreams.”