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Lawyer: 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 not aware of reports that the student had a gun before the shooting occurred, her lawyer said Thursday.

Briana Foster Newton was principal at 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 were aware that the 6-year-old student had a gun at school on January 6 and simply failed to act,” attorney Pamela Branch said during a news conference in Richmond, Virginia.

“Mrs. Newton has been assumed to have been one of those administrators,” Branch said. “However, this is far from the truth. The fact of the matter is that those who were aware that the student may have had a gun on the premises that day did not report this to Mrs. Newton at all.”

Branch provided the first public statement from Newton since the shooting occurred and sought to clarify Newton’s role in an incident that has drawn mounting criticism of the school’s administrators.

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew has repeatedly characterized the shooting as “intentional.” He said there was no warning and no struggle before the child pointed the gun at Zwerner and fired one round, striking her in the hand and chest inside her classroom.

Zwerner, 25, hustled her students out of the classroom before being rushed to the hospital, where she stayed for nearly two weeks.

Diane Toscano, Zwerner’s lawyer, said last month that concerned staff at Richneck warned administrators three times that the boy had a gun and was threatening other students, but that no one called police, removed the boy from class or locked down the school before the shooting occurred.

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

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

Newton is no longer listed as the principal on the school’s website. Michelle Price, a spokesperson for the school district, said last month that 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.

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 has said the gun had been “secured.” Their attorney, James Ellenson, told The Associated Press in January 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 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.

Richneck resumed class on Monday, a full three weeks after the shooting occurred.


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