An official at the Virginia school where a 6-year-old student brought a 9mm pistol in a backpack and allegedly shot his teacher suspected the child possessed a firearm before the shooting transpired, but the official failed to find it in a search, according to a superintendent.
During an online meeting on Thursday, the superintendent of Newport News Schools, Dr. George Parker, told parents that at least one school official was notified that the boy may have had a weapon before last week’s shooting that seriously injured Abigail Zwerner, a 25-year-old first-grade teacher at Richneck Elementary School.
Parker’s comments were first reported by WAVY-TV. The online meeting was organized for parents only, but WAVY-TV reported that the station gained access to the meeting from a parent.
On Friday, the superintendent’s comments were confirmed by Michelle Price, a spokesperson for the school district.
“The superintendent has shared that the student’s backpack was searched and nothing was found at the time,” Price told The Associated Press, noting that she was not told where school administrators suspect the pistol was hidden at the time the backpack was searched.
Specific details about how the school official suspected the boy carried a handgun and why it wasn’t located weren’t immediately available.
Kelly King, a spokesperson for the Newport News Police Department, told the network that sometime after the shooting, police learned through their investigation that a school employee was notified of a possible firearm.
The spokesperson noted that the department was not informed about this information before the shooting occurred.
Price declined to comment on King’s statement. She said that typically when school officials receive a tip about a potential weapon or other contraband in the schools, if the tip includes specific information about a particular student or a particular classroom, “that’s where the search starts.”
On Jan. 6, police received a call shortly before 2 p.m. that a teacher had been shot at Richneck Elementary School.
Responding officers arrived at the school building just five minutes after the initial call and entered the classroom about 10 seconds later.
“When they entered the room, they found a 6-year-old child that was being physically restrained by a school employee,” said Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said. “The child became a little combative; actually struck the school employee that was restraining him, and officers then took control of him and escorted him out of the building, placed him in a police car with an officer inside and outside of that vehicle.”
At 2:06 p.m., medics arrived at the school; they were cleared to enter the school a minute later. They reached the injured teacher by 2:09 p.m., and two minutes later Zwerner was transported to a local hospital for treatment.
On Monday, Drew told reporters that investigators had interviewed the 6-year-old boy and his mother at police headquarters after the incident and determined the firearm was legally purchased in York County.
It’s unclear how the boy gained access to the weapon. Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to a child under 14, treating it as a misdemeanor.
Drew also confirmed Monday that Zwerner’s condition has improved after initially being hospitalized on Jan. 6 with a life-threatening injury.
“Abigail wanted me to tell you all … that she is in stable condition and she is thankful for the thoughts and prayers,” the police chief said.
Meanwhile, Newport News School Board Chair Lisa Surles-Law announced during a meeting on Thursday that security will be enhanced at schools in the entire district. Changes will include metal detectors at all schools, which will first be installed at Richneck Elementary School.
Epoch Times reporter Caden Pearson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.