Principal unaware boy had gun before teacher shot

The former principal of the Virginia elementary school where a 6-year-old shot his teacher was unaware of reports the student had a gun before the shooting, her attorney said Thursday.

Briana Foster Newton was the principal of Richneck Elementary in Newport News last month when first grade teacher Abby Zwerner was shot and wounded in her classroom.

“It continues to be reported that unidentified school administrators knew the 6-year-old student had a gun at school on January 6 and simply did not act,” attorney Pamela Branch said during a news conference in Richmond, Virginia.

“Mrs. Newton was believed to be one of those administrators,” Branch said. “However, that is far from the truth. The fact is, those who knew the student had a gun on the premises that day could not have reported this to Mrs. Newton at all.”

Branch made the first public statement from Newton since the shooting, attempting to clarify Newton’s role in an incident that has drawn growing criticism of school administration.

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew has repeatedly called the shooting “premeditated”. He said there was no warning and no fight before the child pointed the gun at Zwerner and fired a round, hitting her hand and chest in her classroom.

Zwerner, 25, pushed her students out of the classroom before she was taken to the hospital, where she stayed for almost two weeks.

Diane Toscano, Zwerner’s attorney, said last month that concerned Richneck employees had warned administration three times that the boy had a gun and was threatening other students, but that no one called the police, removed the boy from class or the school before Shootout happened.

Toscano said she has informed the school board that Zwerner intends to sue the school district.

Then-Superintendent Gary Parker received the brunt of the criticism from outraged parents and teachers. Before the school board fired him last month, Parker said at least one Richneck administrator received a tip that the boy may have brought a gun to school. Parker said the boy’s backpack was searched but no weapon was found.

Newton is no longer listed as principal on the school’s website. Michelle Price, a school district spokeswoman, said last month that Newton is still employed by the district, but did not say what position Newton now holds.

Deputy principal Ebony Parker has resigned from the school department, Price said.

Karen Lynch, who worked as a principal at Newport News for 17 years, is now listed as the school administrator. In a letter to Richneck’s families this week, Lynch said she works at Richneck “on a special assignment.”

The boy’s family has also hired a lawyer. Police said the 9mm pistol used in the shooting was legally purchased from the boy’s mother. The gun was “seized,” the family said. Her attorney, James Ellenson, told The Associated Press in January that he believed the gun was in the woman’s closet on a six-foot shelf and had a trigger lock that required a key.

The family also said the boy has an “acute disability” and is subject to a care plan “that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day.” The week of the shooting marked the first in which a parent was not in class with him, the family said.

Richneck resumed classes Monday, a full three weeks after the shooting.


For more coverage of the shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/newport-news

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

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