NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Parents at the Virginia elementary school where a 6-year-old boy shot a first-grade teacher this month are demanding answers about how the boy managed to use the gun after his backpack was searched.
“That doesn’t make sense to me. If they searched the backpack, they didn’t do it right,” said Desiree Yvette, whose 6-year-old daughter witnessed the Jan. 6 shooting at Richneck Elementary School in which Abigail Zwerner was critically injured.
Yvette continued: “They didn’t physically go in to make sure nothing was there. If that was the case, then someone should have been able to see it. They should have looked elsewhere if they felt it was necessary to search. And if they didn’t, they failed.”
Yvette was among a group of Richneck parents who spoke to NBC News on Sunday and questioned how thoroughly the boy, his backpack and the school were searched before the shooting in Zwerner’s class while he was teaching about 20 students.
Zwerner survived and is recovering, authorities said.
School system superintendent George Parker III said at a virtual town hall Thursday that it was not public that the boy had been late to school and that his backpack was inspected upon arrival at the office to sign in, according to parents who watched the meeting. .
“At least one administrator was notified of a possible weapon,” Parker said in video reviewed by NBC News.
A Newport News police spokeswoman said authorities also determined through their investigation that “a school employee was notified of a possible firearm at Richneck Elementary before the shooting occurred,” adding: “The Newport News Police Department was not notified of this information prior to the incident. .”
No further details were released about who conducted the search, why the weapon was not found and whether the boy’s clothing was physically examined.
Thomas Britton, 35, questioned the steps school officials took after learning the boy may have brought a gun to school.
“You have a tip, a search and a shot,” said Britton, who questioned whether the boy was removed from the classroom and whether his parents were notified that the boy was suspected of sneaking a gun onto campus.
“What did they do, just look in the backpack and say, ‘I don’t see a weapon. Back to class? Briton said. “If there was someone who said that my son brought a weapon, I would like to be notified and I would also like to have him removed from class until it is fixed.”
Britton’s son was supposed to be in Zwerner’s class during the shooting, but was absent because he underwent a medical procedure.
Yvette’s daughter was there, though her mother wishes she hadn’t.
Yvette, 31, said seeing the horror in Zwerner’s classroom has traumatized the girl.
He broke down in tears when he spoke of his daughter’s pain.
“She’s scared of everything and everyone right now,” Yvette said. “She doesn’t feel safe. Her teacher was her biggest advocate, Mrs. Zwerner. And experiencing that and seeing that, she doesn’t feel safe, because the person who was her security at that school got hurt. She’s afraid that someone she loves and cares about will get hurt by this.”
Mark Anthony Garcia, 38, said his second-grader son is “shocked” after hearing the shot and then tried to help crying students.
Garcia said he is upset that the administration did not immediately notify parents after the shooting. “Once the news got out, that’s when a lot of parents started running to the school with a lot of confusion,” Garcia said.
He also said there was no security officer who could have properly searched the boy’s person for a weapon. “They had no security there in the morning. I am there every day. We don’t have security there in the morning.”
Now, Garcia said, he wants to know “who will be responsible” for security breaches at the school.
Richneck will be equipped with a metal detector, district officials announced last week. The district has secured funding for 90 state-of-the-art metal detectors that will be placed in all district schools. Richneck has been closed since the shooting, authorities said.
The school district has had three cases of gun violence in 17 months.
Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said the investigation is continuing.
He previously said the boy’s mother legally purchased the 9mm Taurus firearm used in the shooting and the boy took the gun from his home. Whether he was well secured is a key element in the investigation, Drew said.
Drew said Sunday that the investigation involves looking into the boy and his parents’ history. He also said that student witnesses will be interviewed.
“If there are child protective service records, we want to see them. If there are any school records related to behavior problems or anything, related to violence, threats,” those reports will also be investigated, she said.
Drew added: “Unfortunately, we want to talk to, I wish we didn’t have to, but to be thorough, we want to do our best, talk to the students that were in the room. And we will partner with a child psychologist who will handle those interviews for us.”