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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Virginia teacher shot by 6-year-old student is in stable condition, officials say

A school sign wishing students a “Happy New Year” is seen outside Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., on Saturday. A 6-year-old student was taken into custody after reportedly shooting a teacher during an altercation in a classroom at the school on Friday.  (Jay Paul/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Nour Habib Daily Press

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – A teacher shot by a student Friday afternoon at Richneck Elementary School “is improving,” James Graves, the president of the Newport News Education Association, said Saturday afternoon.

Newport News police and school officials declined to identify the teacher, or the suspect. However, multiple sources online and on social media have stated the teacher is Abigail Zwerner, 25, of Williamsburg.

Zwerner, known to her students as “Ms. Z,” teaches first grade at Richneck. She is a graduate of James Madison University.

Police said Friday that a 6-year-old boy was involved in “an altercation” with his teacher before he shot her with a handgun. The boy was taken into custody.

Police Chief Steve Drew met with the teacher and her family Saturday morning, and police officials noted she is in stable condition. Sherri Hartzheim, listed as a fourth-grade teacher at Richneck, said in a Facebook comment late Friday the teacher “is awake, alert and talking. Continue to keep her in your prayers.”

In a statement released online Friday, Graves said: “The NNEA stands with Richneck’s school workers, students, and families in the wake of this traumatic event. The NNEA will continue to advocate for the safety of all NNPS teachers and staff.”

Cindy Hurst, who has two grandchildren attending Richneck, said her granddaughter, 8, is still rattled by Friday’s shooting. She was in Zwerner’s class last year, and told her grandmother she is a great teacher.

“I just hate that this happened,” Hurst said. “But life as we know it may not ever be the same – I don’t know.”

In a message sent to families Saturday, Richneck Principal Briana Foster Newton said the school would be closed Monday and Tuesday, and possibly longer, to give the school community time to heal.

“My heart is aching for our school community,” Newton said. “The tragic event that occurred on Friday impacts all of us deeply. My thoughts and prayers remain with our teacher who was seriously injured, and our students and our staff, who are dealing with the aftereffects of this tragedy.”

Newton said the school division set up a 24-hour helpline managed by the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board.

“Licensed therapists are available to assist parents and staff with tips for talking with our children, counseling services and resource referrals,” she said.

JMU president Jonathan R. Alger released a statement Saturday, saying the school was saddened by the shooting.

“We want to all we can to support Abby, her family and friends, fellow teachers and current students and their families at this incredibly difficult time,” he said.

Newport News Mayor Phillip D. Jones said the suspect is receiving the appropriate care and services, and that the community is “saddened and disheartened” by the shooting.

“It is almost impossible to wrap our minds around the fact that a 6-year-old first grader brought a loaded handgun to school and shot a teacher; however, this is exactly what our community is grappling with today,” Jones said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the teacher and her family, and we are hopeful that she will recover from this ordeal.

“This is still an active investigation, and the Newport News Police Department is working diligently to get an answer to the question we are all asking – how did this happen?”