Former principal at Virginia school where boy shot his first-grade teacher was not told the child had a gun, her attorney says

The former principal at the Virginia elementary school where a 6-year-old student shot his first-grade teacher last month was not warned that the child may have had a gun on campus that day, his lawyer said Thursday.

No other administrators told Briana Foster Newton, the former principal at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, about warnings the child may have taken a gun on campus, Pamela J. Branch, her attorney, said at a brief news conference Thursday.

“It continues to be reported that unidentified school administrators were aware that the 6-year-old student had a gun at school on Jan. 6 and simply failed to act. Mrs. Newton has been assumed to be one of those administrators. However, that is far from the truth,” Branch said. “The fact of the matter is that those who were aware that the student may have had a gun on the premises that day did not report this to Mrs. Newton at all.”

Branch continued, “I repeat: Mrs. Newton was unfortunately not one of the administrators who was informed by those in the school that day who had this critical information.”

The branch took only a few questions from reporters Thursday citing an investigation and the possibility of future litigation. She added the students had only recently returned to the school and are trying to regain normalcy.

‘They failed to act, and Abby was shot’

The teacher, Abigail Zwerner, 25, was wounded in a hand and her chest after the student shot her in front of a classroom of about 20 students, officials have said.

Zwerner survived and is recovering.

On Jan. 25, Zwerner’s attorney, Diane Toscano, made a series of allegations that the administration at Richneck ignored multiple warnings that could have prevented the shooting.

Three teachers went to the school administration on the day of the shooting saying the 6-year-old student was believed to have a gun on campus, Toscano said. They also complained about his behavior.

Zwerner first went to a school administrator sometime from 11:15 am to 11:30 am and said the student had threatened to beat up a classmate, Toscano said. A second teacher went to a school administrator at 12:30 pm and said she had taken it upon herself to search the boy’s backpack.

“The administrator downplayed the report from the teacher and the possibility of a gun,” Toscano said.

A third teacher told an administrator shortly before 1 pm, about an hour before the shooting, that the boy had shown a classmate 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 boy and was denied, Toscano said.

The administrator told the employee to “wait the situation out because the school day was almost over,” Toscano said.

Toscano said that the “administration could not be bothered” and that the tragedy would have been “entirely preventable” if the administration “had taken action when they had knowledge of imminent danger,” adding, “But instead, they failed to act, and Abby was shot.”

Toscano could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Branch also said Thursday that Newton had received threatening voicemails and had been the subject of misinformation on social media.

She said Branch, an 11-year educator who was in her first year as a principal, had been “demonized.”

Newton was voted the district’s elementary teacher of the year by his colleagues in 2018, when he taught third-grade students, Branch said.

She added that Newton was praying for Zwerner’s “continual healing process” and that Newton wished nothing but the best for the Richneck community.

NBC News has reported that Zwerner texted a loved one before the shooting, saying that the boy was armed and that school officials were failing to act.

Fallout from the shooting shook up school and district leadership

Children returned to classes Monday for the first time since the shooting without Newton as their principal. Assistant Principal Ebony Parker resigned from the school, district spokesperson Michelle Price said.

With the departures of the principal and the assistant principal, the district’s extended learning supervisor, Karen Lynch, an experienced elementary school principal, was selected as an administrator on special assignment at Richneck, coordinating the students’ return to learning, Price said.

Newton remains employed with the school district, Price has said. Branch said Newton had not been reassigned a position with the district as of Thursday.

Changes were made at Richneck to boost security. Among other changes, two permanent school division security officers were placed at the school, two metal detector systems were installed, doors were installed in classroom areas that had not had them, and all students were given clear backpacks, the district said.

The school system’s former superintendent George Parker III said at a virtual town hall last month that the boy had come to school late and that his book bag was inspected when he arrived at the office to sign in, said parents who watched the meeting.

“At least one administrator was notified of a possible weapon,” Parker said in a video reviewed by NBC News.

The school board ousted Parker from his job in a 5-1 vote on Jan. 25. His separation became official Wednesday, and he was replaced by an interim superintendent.

No charges have been announced. Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew has said the boy’s mother legally purchased the 9 mm Taurus firearm used in the shooting. Whether the gun was secured at the home is being investigated, Drew has said.

The boy’s family said in a statement last month the gun was “secured” when he took it from their home. It did not go into further detail.

Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children. The firearm our son accessed was secured,” said the statement, released by James Ellenson, the family’s attorney.

The statement also said the boy “suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school which included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day.”

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