NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The first-graders in Virginia who watched a classmate shoot their teacher last week will each have to undergo a forensic interview conducted by police, The Post has learned.
The children witnessed a parent’s worst nightmare on Friday when an unnamed 6-year-old boy in their class at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, shot first-grade teacher Abigail Zwerner.
The bullet from the 9mm Taurus handgun went through Zwerner’s hand and into her chest, police said. The 25-year-old was initially hospitalized in critical condition and is now expected to recover.
While picking their kids up from the school, which was quickly placed under lockdown, parents of students in Zwerner’s class were told by police their children would need to undergo intense police questioning. The interviews will likely be conducted by a police officer and with an expert from a local children’s hospital. Police declined to comment on the interviews.
Many of the kids who witnessed the trauma are too young to even understand how it happened, parents said.
One parent, who didn’t want to be identified, said her daughter’s account of what happened broke her heart.
“My daughter did tell me this: ‘I was bent down looking at the backpack and I thought [he] was standing on the table again. Then I turned around and he had a gun. He had a real gun, Mommy,’” she told The Post.
Police said the child got the gun from his mother, who purchased it legally in nearby York County. The name of the mother has not been released and it’s unclear if she’ll face charges.
“My daughter asked me if Miss Z will be able to walk again, which makes me think she saw her laying on the floor [after the shooting],” the parent said while choking up. “It’s hard because you don’t know what to say.”
The mom said the school has barely communicated with her in the aftermath of the incident. An administrator who called to check in on her family even called her daughter by the wrong name in a voicemail message, she said.
As of Thursday, the parents hadn’t been told the plan for returning to school and if their kids will have to go back to the same classroom. The school district did not return a request for comment.
Police said after Zwerner was shot, she ushered additional students out of the classroom before stumbling down the hallway and collapsing in the school office.
“From the video surveillance we have of that hallway, you can see the students running out of that classroom across the hall into another classroom. Ms. Zwerner was the last person to leave that class,” said Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew, who called the shooting intentional.
Meghan Britton, whose son is in Zwerner’s class but was absent the day of the shooting, said her 7-year-old’s perception of the harrowing event has seriously affected him.
“He asked me: ‘What if I walk into the door and the bullets chase me,’” the 35-year-old mom said, explaining her kid doesn’t even know to connect a bullet and a gun. “We had to reassure him that the person who did this won’t be there.”
Seven-year-old Zachary, who is in the first-grade classroom across the hall from Zwerner’s, said the shooting was “scary.”
“I was really brave,” he said, standing alongside his mom, Kelsey Cooper. “I am praying for Miss Z.”
Richneck Elementary has been closed since the shooting, but the district is planning to reopen Jan. 17.
Parent Ashley Cooper, 36, isn’t comfortable sending her son Aaron Blackman back to his second-grade classroom yet.
“I don’t think a week is enough. I think we need to have virtual school for the rest of the month,” she said in the school’s parking lot, where she had returned Tuesday to pick up the belongings Aaron left behind Friday.
Mark Garcia Sr., whose son Mark Jr. also goes to Richneck, said he wants all the children carrying clear backpacks.
“The only place I’ve seen metal detectors are in the library,” he said, adding that school policy needs to change to prioritize security.
The shooting Friday was the third shooting in the district in the past 18 months: A 16-year-old shot two 17-year-old students at Heritage High School in September 2021; a few months later, Demari Batten, 18, shot and killed Justice Dunham, 17, after a football game in the parking lot of Menchville High School, according to local reports.
Many parents in the district told The Post they understand why the school had updated its safety protocols for the middle and high schools in Newport News but not for the elementary schools — they didn’t expect a shooter to be that young, they said. Others disagreed.
“This is our third incident. I’m not exactly shocked,” said Newport News PTA president Michele Nordeen.