An injured Virginia teacher led her students to safety after she was shot by a 6-year-old girl, authorities say


The Virginia elementary school teacher who police say was intentionally shot by a 6-year-old student is being hailed as a hero who saved lives by leading her students out of the classroom while injured.

Abigail Zwerner was struck Friday while teaching her class, Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said Monday at a news conference.

«The 6-year-old girl displayed a firearm, pointed it and fired one round,» Drew said. «There was no physical wrestling or fighting. She was giving instruction to her class.»

The bullet went through the teacher’s hand and entered her upper chest, «but she was still able to get all her students out of that classroom,» she said.

«She made sure… that every single one of those students was safe.»

Zwerner’s condition was described as stable on Monday.

No students were injured in the first-grade classroom shooting at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, and a 6-year-old boy was taken into custody Friday.

The chief said investigators recovered a spent shell casing, a backpack, a cell phone and a Taurus 9MM firearm.

“The altercation was between a 6-year-old boy, the student, who had the firearm, and the teacher, and then a round was fired,” Drew said.

On Monday, the chief called the shooting investigation «unprecedented.» He said the gun was taken from the boy’s house. The boy’s mother had legally purchased the gun, Drew said.

After the shooting, Drew said, police consulted with various agencies, including the Commonwealth Prosecutor’s Office and child welfare services. The boy was transported to a hospital and evaluated, Drew said.

A court-ordered temporary detention order was placed on the boy who is «currently receiving treatment at a medical facility,» Drew said. The investigation is ongoing, she said.

David Riedman, the founder of the K-12 School Shot Database which tracks shootings on US school grounds dating back to 1970, said shootings of a child on campus are extremely rare.

“This is the 17th shooting by a child under the age of 10 at a school. It’s rare for a 6-year-old to pull the trigger,» she said.

Riedman added that the case was very similar to when a 6-year-old boy fatally shot a classmate at a Michigan school in 2000. In that case, the student killed Kayla Rolland when a teacher was lining up children in a hallway for a trip to the library.

Shootings involving children are entirely preventable, he said.

“This is a tragic situation because it is extraordinarily preventable,” Riedman said. “A young student can’t buy his own gun, which means he has to get it from an adult. This was a weapon that this student could not obtain on his own and had it been properly secured by an adult, the shooting would never have occurred.”

Since 1970, more than 200 employees have been shot on school property, according to the database.

That includes 167 teachers, 44 principals or assistant principals, 59 school staff members, and 18 school bus drivers.

police, city and school district officials had not publicly named Zwerner as the teacher who was injured before Monday.

James Madison University identified the injured teacher as Abby Zwerner, one of its graduates.

JMU President Jonathan R. Alger said in a statement that the campus, nearly 200 miles northwest of Newport News, was «deeply saddened by the reported tragic shooting of JMU alumnus Abby Zwerner.»

Police said in a statement that Drew met with her and her family on Saturday morning.

Both the police department and Riverside Regional Medical Center, where the teacher was recovering, said Saturday that she had stabilized.

“She has improved,” police said in the statement. «Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, we will not release any further information at this time.»

The 6-year-old student was not identified due to his age.

Richneck was closed to students this week, the officials said.

“I am in awe, shock and discouraged,” George Parker III, superintendent of Newport News Public Schools, said at the news conference last week.

James J. Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, the union that represents many public school teachers in the state, said in a statement that the shooting is “yet another example of senseless violence affecting our public schools.” ”.

Prior to Friday’s incident, shootings at two other schools within the Newport News Public Schools system had shaken the community.

In September 2021, a 16-year-old fired multiple shots in a crowded hallway at Heritage High School during the lunch hour, wounding two 17-year-olds, an NBC affiliate. CURLY of Portsmouth, Virginia, reported.

The shooter was sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to the station.

Less than two months later, 18-year-old Demari Batten fatally shot Judge Dunham, 17, in the parking lot of Menchville High School after a football game against Woodside High School, also in the same school system, according to CURLY.

Newport News Public Schools, which has 26,500 students, has three early childhood centers, 24 elementary schools, seven middle schools and five high schools, according to the district website.

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