Administrators at a United States school where a six-year-old boy shot a teacher were warned three times that the boy had a gun and was threatening other students, a lawyer says.
- Abigail Zwerner was shot while teaching at Richneck Elementary School on January 6
- Her lawyer says administrators were “paralysed by apathy” and did not call police when warned the boy had a gun
- The school board has voted to relieve district superintendent George Parker of his duties
Abigail Zwerner — who was shot while teaching at Richneck Elementary School in Virginia on January 6 — plans to sue the school district over the shooting, her lawyer, Diane Toscano, said.
Ms Toscano said the administration “was paralyzed by apathy” and did not call the police, remove the boy from class or lock down the school, despite being warned.
“Over the course of a few hours, three different times — three times — the school administration was warned by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people,” she said.
“But the administration could not be bothered.”
She said that Ms. Zwerner first went to an administrator at around 11:15am and told them the boy had threatened to beat up another child, but no action was taken.
About an hour later, another teacher went to an administrator and warned that she thought the boy had put the gun in his pocket before going outside for recess, Ms. Toscano said.
“The administrator downplayed the report from the teacher and the possibility of a gun, saying — and I quote — ‘Well, he has little pockets,'” she said.
After 1pm, another teacher told an administrator that a different student who was “crying and fearful” said the boy had shown him the gun during recess and threatened to shoot him if he told anyone, the lawyer said, but no action was taken.
When another employee who had heard the boy might have a gun asked an administrator to search for the boy, he was turned down, Ms. Toscano said.
“He was told to wait the situation out because the school day was almost over,” she said.
About an hour later, Ms. Zwerner was shot.
“Were they not so paralyzed by apathy, they could have prevented this tragedy,” Ms. Toscano said.
School district spokesperson Michelle Price declined to comment.
“Since the school division’s investigation is ongoing, I cannot comment on the statements presented by Ms. Zwerner’s lawyer at this time,” he said.
The shooting raised questions about security at the school and stunned Newport News, a city of about 185,000 people located 113 kilometers southeast of Richmond.
Superintendent relieved of duties
Meanwhile, the school board has voted to relieve district superintendent George Parker of his duties, effective as of February 1.
The school board announced his departure after a closed-door special meeting on Wednesday evening.
It voted 5-1 in favor of the separation agreement and severance package.
Mr. Parker — who was criticized by parents and teachers after the shooting — said at least one administrator was told on the day of the shooting that the boy might have a weapon, but it was not found when his backpack was searched.
Local police have said that school officials did not tell them about that tip before the shooting, which happened hours later.
Police Chief Steve Drew has repeatedly characterized the shooting as “intentional”, saying the boy aimed at Ms. Zwerner and fired one round, striking her in the hand and chest.
Ms. Zwerner was hospitalized for nearly two weeks but was now recovering at home, Ms. Toscano said.
“The road to full recovery will be long … and the psychological scars will be lasting,” she said.
Police said the boy’s mother had legally purchased the gun used in the shooting.
The family’s attorney, James Ellenson, said his understanding was that the gun was in the woman’s closet on a shelf more than 1.8 meters high and had a trigger lock that required a key.
In its statement, the family said that the boy had an “acute disability” and was under a care plan “that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day”.
The week of the shooting was the first when a parent was not in class with him, the family said.
Mr. Ellenson said the family continued “to pray for Ms. Zwerner and wish her a complete and full recovery.”
The school is due to reopen next week for the first time after the shooting.
Karen Lynch — a longtime principal in the Newport News school district — has been named as an “administrator on special assignment,” she said in a statement to parents.