Fallout from shooting by first-grader includes staff shakeup

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With the Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., set to reopen next week after a 6-year-old boy shot his teacher on Jan. 6, 2023, students and their families were invited to an open house at the school Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. The students visited with staff and participated in activities. They were greeted by signs reading, "YOU ARE LOVED," "WE LOVE YOU" and "RICHNECK STRONG." (AP Photo/Denise Lavoie)

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – The fallout from the shooting of a teacher by a 6-year-old student in Virginia has prompted a staff shakeup in the Newport News school district.

In addition to the firing of Superintendent Gary Parker this week, the principal and assistant principal of Richneck Elementary School have left their jobs. A longtime principal in the school district has been named to lead the school as it prepares to reopen next week.

The shooting by a first-grade boy on Jan. 6 stunned Newport News, a city of about 185,000 located 70 miles (113 kilometers) southeast of Richmond, and has reverberated around the country, raising questions about school security and how a child so young gained access to a gun and was able to fire it at his teacher.

Diane Toscano, a lawyer for the wounded teacher, Abby Zwerner, said this week that on the day of the shooting, concerned staff at Richneck warned administrators three times that the boy had a gun and was threatening other students, but the administration didn't call police, remove the boy from class or lock down the school.

Parker, who took the brunt of criticism from outraged parents and teachers and was fired by the school board this week, has said that at least one administrator at the school received a tip that the boy may have brought a weapon to school. Parker said the boy's backpack was searched, but no weapon was found.

The fallout over the shooting is ongoing.

Principal Briana Foster Newton is no longer listed as the principal on the school's website. Michelle Price, a spokesperson for the school district, said Newton is still employed by the district, but she did not say what position Newton now holds.

Assistant Principal Ebony Parker has resigned from the school division, Price said.

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

Zwerner, 25, was hospitalized for nearly two weeks but is now recovering at home. Toscano said she notified the school board that Zwerner intends to sue the school district.

The boy's family has also retained an attorney. Police have said the 9 mm handgun used in the shooting was legally purchased by the boy's mother. The family said in a news release last week that the gun had been “secured.” Their attorney, James Ellenson, told The Associated Press that his understanding was that the gun was in the woman’s closet on a shelf well over 6 feet (1.8 meters) high and had a trigger lock that required a key.

The family also said that the boy has an “acute disability” and was under 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 was the first when a parent was not in class with him, the family said.

Emotional support services have been provided to students, families and staff by the district's student support specialists, school social workers, or licensed therapists. Lynch said in her letter to families that those services will continue when students return to school.