Ex-Assistant Principal Charged After First Grader Shot Teacher In Classroom

A former Virginia elementary school administrator was indicted last month on eight felony charges in connection to an incident last year in which a 6-year-old student shot his teacher, prosecutors announced on Wednesday.

A Newport News special grand jury charged Ebony Parker, the former assistant principal at Richneck Elementary School, with eight counts of child neglect, according to a press release by the commonwealth’s attorney and the special grand jury report released Wednesday.

Parker’s charges stem from Jan. 6, 2023, when a first-grade student brought his mother’s gun to school and shot his teacher, Abigail Zwerner.

Multiple school staff members had informed Parker the boy had a gun, but she dismissed those concerns, the report alleged. The grand jury found her “criminally liable” for her “lack of actions” because her duties as assistant principal included the “responsibility to care for the children in Ms. Zwerner’s classroom and throughout the school.”

Students return to Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Virginia, on Jan. 30, 2023, for the first time since a 6-year-old shot his teacher three weeks prior.
Students return to Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Virginia, on Jan. 30, 2023, for the first time since a 6-year-old shot his teacher three weeks prior.

Billy Schuerman/Daily Press/Newport News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The day of the shooting, Zwerner told Parker she was concerned about the boy’s “aggression,” but Parker did not “look away from her computer screen” or “acknowledge Ms. Zwerner’s presence,” according to the report.

Another teacher, identified as Ms. Kovac, was informed by two students that the boy had a gun in his bag, according to the report. Kovac went into Zwerner’s classroom to ask the boy if he had a gun and asked to search his bag, which he denied.

According to the report, Kovac told Parker the boy would not let her check his bag and “was acting unlike his normal self.”

Parker “did not inquire further with any questions, took no further action, and did not appear to show concern,” the grand jury alleged. Kovac later searched the boy’s backpack, but did not find the gun, according to the report.

Kovac then reported to Parker that Zwerner witnessed the boy put something in his jacket. Parker allegedly replied, “He has little pockets.”

According to the report, the boy’s friend told another teacher, identified as Ms. West, that the boy had a gun and had shown him the bullets.

“The friend was visibly scared and shaking,” the report read. “He said the child would hurt him if he told her.”

The grand jury alleged that West told Parker the boy had a gun, but Parker responded that the backpack had already been searched.

Later that day, a school counselor who spoke with the frightened friend requested permission from Parker to have security search the boy, according to the report. Despite the counselor being the third person to relay concerns to Parker, she denied his request, stating that “his mom would come pick him up soon.”

At 1:58 p.m., the boy “pointed [the gun] directly at Ms. Zwerner and, at less than six feet away, pulled the trigger and shot Ms. Zwerner,” the report read. “Ms. Zwerner looked down to see a pool of blood forming. The child continued to stare at her, not changing his emotional facial expression as he tried to shoot again.”

The boy was unable to shoot his teacher again because the gun was jammed. The grand jury noted that the firearm had seven more bullets that would have been ready to fire if it hadn’t jammed.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the city’s Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office clarified that Parker faces one felony count for “each of the eight bullets that endangered all the students” in the classroom.

Since the incident, many parents have filed lawsuits against the school.

“These charges suggest that there is sufficient evidence that the students of Richneck were placed in peril by the very hands entrusted to protect them,” Emily Mapp Brannon, who represents seven of the families impacted by the shooting, told HuffPost in an email.

Zwerner has also filed a lawsuit against the school, alleging that Parker had dismissed her concerns.

In a statement shared with HuffPost, Zwerner’s attorneys, Diane Toscano, Kevin Biniazan and Jeffrey Breit, described Parker’s charges as “very serious” and said they “underscore the failure of the school district to act to prevent the tragic shooting.”

“The school board continues to deny their responsibility to Abby, and this indictment is just another brick in the wall of mounting failures and gross negligence in their case,” the statement read.

Newport News Public Schools and the Richneck Elementary School principal did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

The boy’s mother, Deja Taylor, was charged with child neglect last year in connection to the incident and sentenced to two years in prison in December.

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