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'Road to recovery will be long' | Lawyer for teacher shot by 6-year-old student intends to file lawsuit against school district

Lawyers claimed teachers and employees warned administrators three different times that the student had a gun and was threatening people the day of the shooting.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The attorney representing Abby Zwerner, the Richneck Elementary teacher shot by a 6-year-old student, announced her intent to file a lawsuit against Newport News Public Schools Wednesday morning.

Attorney Diane Toscano made the announcement at Newport News Marriott at City Center, less than a week after Riverside Health System confirmed that Zwerner was released from the hospital.

Toscano accused Richneck's administrators of failing to act, disregarding safety concerns about the student by several school employees before the shooting.

"The administration could not be bothered," Toscano reiterated during a news conference. She stated her belief that the tragedy was preventable if school administrators had taken action.

"But instead, they failed to act and Abby was shot," Toscano said.

She shared more details about the Jan. 6 shooting, claiming teachers and employees warned administrators three different times that the student had a gun and was threatening people the day of the shooting.

The first warning came from Zwerner around 11:15 to 11:30 a.m., according to Toscano, when she went to a school administrator to tell them the student 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," Toscano said.

The second warning came around 12:30 p.m. when another teacher notified an administrator that she searched the bookbag of the student suspected to have brought a gun to school, according to Toscano.

The teacher also told the administrator that she believed the student put the gun in his pocket before going outside for recess. Toscano accused the administrator of downplaying the report because the student "has little pockets."

Toscano continued by outlining the third warning, which came after 1 p.m. 

A third teacher told administrators about another boy who reported that the perpetrator showed him the gun at recess and threatened to shoot him if he told anybody.

Toscano said a fourth employee asked an administrator for permission to search the student but was denied because "the school day was almost over."

"Tragically, almost an hour later, violence struck Richneck Elementary School," Toscano said.

 "Abby was shot in front of those horrified kids and the school community is living the nightmare all because the school administration failed to act."

Toscano also shared an update on Zwerner's recovery, describing her as "an optimistic, dedicated, and caring elementary school teacher who endured the unthinkable."

She said Zwerner is gaining strength every day and is grateful for the outpouring of support from teachers, students, parents, and others.

"But the road to full recovery will be long, and as her physical condition improves, the psychological wounds cut deeply and remain fresh, and the psychological scars will be lasting," Toscano said.

Parent Mark Garcia Sr. sat through Wednesday's press conference. He said the allegations are alarming because his son is in second grade at Richneck.

“I’m horrified Ms. Zwerner had to go through that," Garcia said. 

Garcia said he is thinking about sending his son to another school.

“After hearing this, I really have to see if the administration has changed their mind and put people in better places for this situation to never happen again," Garcia said. 

13News Now has reached out to Newport News Public Schools for comment on Zwerner's plans but hasn't heard back yet.

The attorney for the family of the student who shot Zwerner, James Ellenson, released the following statement in the aftermath of the press conference: "On behalf of the family of the child, we continue to pray for Ms. Zwerner and wish her a complete and full recovery. Our hearts go out to all involved."

13News Now Digital Director Catherine Rogers contributed to this report.

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