Family of 6-year-old who shot teacher at Richneck Elementary speaks out

The family of a six-year-old who authorities say shot and wounded a Virginia teacher earlier this month at an elementary school expressed sympathy for the educator on Thursday and said their son suffers from an “acute disability.”

Offering their first public comments on the shooting that drew national attention, the family members said in a statement released through their attorney, James S. Ellenson, that the gun police say the boy brought from home and used to carry out the shooting “was secured.”

But the statement offered no specific details, and no explanation as to how a young boy was able to get a loaded weapon from their home. Police have said previously the boy’s mother had legally purchased the gun, which the student brought to school in a backpack.

Authorities say they are still investigating how the boy got the gun and are exploring whether to charge anyone for failing to secure it. A Newport News police spokeswoman declined to comment on the family’s characterization of how the gun was stored Thursday, citing the ongoing investigation.

“Our heart goes out to our son’s teacher and we pray for her healing in the aftermath of such an unimaginable tragedy as she selflessly served our son and the children in the school,” the statement read. “She has worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son. We thank her for her courage, grace and sacrifice.”

6-year-old who allegedly shot Va. teacher used gun legally purchased by mom, police say

The statement said the family is cooperating with local and federal law enforcement “to understand how this could have happened.” The boy was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class everyday until the week of the shooting, the statement said.

“The week of the shooting was the first week when we were not in class with him,” the statement said. “We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives.”

Before shooting, backpack of Va. 6-year-old searched by school staffer

The boy has been under hospital care and has been receiving treatment since the shooting, according to the statement. Ellenson did not immediately respond to a request for additional comments on the statement.

Newport News police said the shooting occurred shortly after 2 p.m. on Jan. 6 at Richneck Elementary School. The boy pulled out a gun and shot first-grade teacher Abigail Zwerner as she was teaching a lesson, police said. The bullet tore through Zwerner’s outstretched hand and hit her in the chest.

Authorities have called the shooting intentional, but are still investigating the motive. The boy has not been charged with a crime and legal experts say that is unlikely since Virginia law presumes children under seven can’t form the intent to commit an illegal act.

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said in an online chat Wednesday the investigation into the shooting is progressing, but authorities still need to conduct interviews with some of the students in the class and obtain school records and other materials.

Zwerner was rushed to the hospital in critical condition, and Drew said she is still recovering.

Earlier this week, hundreds of parents packed a Newport News school board meeting to complain about security in the district’s schools, where three shootings have occurred on school grounds since 2021.

Some parents have also questioned how Richneck handled the events leading up to the shooting. Newport News schools Superintendent George Parker III said last week school officials had received a tip that the boy had a gun on the day of the shooting and searched his backpack, but did not find the weapon. Police have said they were not contacted about the tip, and parents have questioned how a six-year-old was able to conceal a gun from school officials.

Nick Anderson contributed to this report. This is a developing story and will be updated.

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