Teacher shot by 6-year-old sues school officials for $40 million

Abigail Zwerner says the school was aware of the student's violent history and refused to take action despite repeated warnings that he had a gun.

Abigail Zwerner in a school hallway
Diane Toscano / Abigail Zwerner's lawyer

The first-grade teacher who was shot by her 6-year-old student at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, is suing school administrators and the school board for $40 million in damages.

Abigail Zwerner, 25, alleges the school had been aware of the student's violent nature and refused to take action despite repeated warnings that he had a firearm at school the day of the shooting, according to the lawsuit obtained by Scripps News Norfolk. The lawsuit was filed against the Newport News School Board and two other parties, former superintendent George Parker and assistant principal Ebony Parker.

The lawsuit also references a previous incident in which the student strangled and choked his kindergarten teacher.

"All Defendants knew that John Doe attacked students and teachers alike, and his motivation to injure was directed toward anyone in his path, both in and out of school, and was not limited to teachers while at the school," the lawsuit reads.

The student had been removed from Richneck and sent to another school for the remainder of his kindergarten school year, but was allowed to return for first grade in the fall of 2022.

He had been on a modified schedule after "chasing students around the playground with a belt in an effort to whip them with it," and was cursing at school staff, the lawsuit said. A parent had been required to accompany the boy at school under the modified schedule.

Teachers had often flagged the student's misbehavior, but were ignored, the lawsuit says. When the child was at times taken to the office, the lawsuit alleges he'd return with some sort of reward, like a piece of candy.

A school bus outside Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia.

'I thought I had died': Teacher shot by 6-year-old student speaks out

For the first time, first grade teacher Abigail Zwerner is speaking out about the day she was shot by her 6-year-old student at Richneck Elementary.


The lawsuit breaks down a series of warnings Zwerner says the school ignored the day of the shooting, starting with Zwerner's visit to assistant principal Parker's office between 11:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. 

At that time, Zwerner told Parker her student was in a "violent mood," saying he threatened to beat a kindergartner and stared down a security officer in the lunchroom. The lawsuit says Parker had no response and refused to even look up at Zwerner.

Minutes after Zwerner voiced her concerns, two boys told a reading specialist at the school, Amy Kovac, that the student had a gun on him. The student refused to offer up his backpack to Kovak.

After that, Zwerner told Kovak that she saw the student transfer something from his backpack to his sweatshirt, the lawsuit alleges. When Kovak then checked his backpack, there was no weapon inside.

Kovak notified Parker of the gun rumors, but the lawsuit says Parker responded by saying the boy's pockets were too small to hold a gun.

In another instance, a first grader, who was crying, told a teacher the student had shown him a gun in his pocket at recess. That teacher told the office and a music teacher. When the music teacher contacted Parker, the assistant principal said the boy's backpack had already been searched.

A guidance counselor approached Parker for permission to search the boy's backpack, but Parker prohibited him from doing so, saying his "mother would be arriving soon to pick him up," the lawsuit said.

About an hour later, the boy held up a gun and shot Zwerner in her classroom. She suffered severe and permanent physical injuries, including a collapsed lung and ruptured bones in her hand, in addition to mental trauma.

The boy will not be criminally charged.