A school official didn't think the 6-year-old who shot his teacher was hiding a gun because he had 'little pockets,' the educator's lawyer alleged

Messages of support for teacher Abigail Zwerner, who was shot by a 6-year-old student, grace the front door of Richneck Elementary School Newport News, Va., on Jan. 9, 2023.
Messages of support for teacher Abigail Zwerner, who was shot by a 6-year-old student, grace the front door of Richneck Elementary School Newport News, Va., on Jan. 9, 2023.AP Photo/John C. Clark, File
  • Administrators at a school where a 6-year-old shot his teacher ignored warnings, a lawyer said.

  • An official thought the boy couldn't hide gun because he had "little pockets," the attorney alleged.

  • Abigail Zwerner, who was shot on January 6, intends to sue the school district over the incident.

An administrator at a Virginia school where a teacher was shot by her 6-year-old student on January 6 dismissed a warning that the boy could be hiding a gun because he had "little pockets," the wounded educator's attorney said on Wednesday.

Diane Toscano, an attorney for first-grade teacher Abigail Zwerner, told reporters during a press conference that administrators at Richneck Elementary School were warned three times that the young student may have had a gun in the hours before Zwerner was shot.

"On that day, over the course of a few hours, three different times — three times — school administration was warned by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people. But the administration could not be bothered," Toscano said.

Toscano said the shooting at the Newport News, Virginia, school could have been "entirely preventable" if administrators who were "responsible for school safety had done their part and taken action when they had knowledge of imminent danger."

"But instead, they failed to act, and [Zwerner] was shot," the attorney said.

Toscano alleged that around 12:30 p.m. on the day of the shooting, a teacher at the school told an administrator that she searched the backpack of the boy who was suspected of having a gun but did not find one. Toscano alleged that the teacher then reported back to that same administrator that she believed the boy put the gun in his pocket before going outside for recess.

"But the administration could not be bothered," 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 went on to allege that shortly after 1 p.m. and roughly an hour before the 2 p.m. shooting, another teacher at the school reported to administrators that a student who was "crying and fearful" told his teacher "that the perpetrator showed him the gun at recess and threatened to shoot him if he told anybody."

"What did administrators do? Did administrators call the police? No. Did administrators lock down the school? No. Did administrators evacuate the building? No. Did they confront the student? No," said Toscano.

Additionally, the attorney said, another school employee who "heard about the danger asked the administrator for permission to search the boy," but was denied.

"He was told to wait the situation out because the school day was almost over," said Toscano. "Let that sink in."

Nearly an hour later, Zwerner was shot in the chest by the 6-year-old boy in front of her "horrified students," Toscano said.

Toscano said that on the day of the shooting, Zwerner had also gone to a school administrator to report that the 6-year-old boy had "threatened to beat up another child."

"They didn't call security. They didn't remove the student from the classroom. The school administration failed to act," said Toscano.

During the press conference, Toscano announced that Zwerner intends to sue the Newport News School District over the incident.

"This should have never happened," Toscano said. "It was preventable."

The Newport News School District did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Insider on Wednesday.

Erin Davis, an attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told Insider that Zwerner and her lawyer feel they have enough evidence to bring a credible lawsuit against the school district.

Davis agreed with Toscano that the incident appears to have been preventable.

"If they had taken action, it sounds like they probably could have discovered the gun and stopped the shooting," Davis told Insider.

"It's extremely telling that there was so much warning provided to the school about this child, about the child having the gun," Davis added.

A school has a duty to keep its community safe and to investigate and take action in response to any knowledge of a threat or violent act, Davis said.

"Action is really what keeps these kids and these teachers and these communities safe. There are so many situations where choosing not to act ends up in deadly violence," she said. "This is certainly one of those situations where based on what they said so far seems like they should have acted."

Davis said she expects Zwerner's attorneys to lean on her close relationships with the other teachers to build and flesh out her case.

Zwerner "is a school employee," Davis said. "She knows all the people who were involved, hopefully pretty closely. So her facts are probably pretty credible."

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