Teacher shot by six-year-old pupil files multimillion-dollar lawsuit

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A Virginia teacher who was shot and seriously wounded by a six-year-old pupil has filed a lawsuit seeking 40 million dollars (£32.4 million) in damages from school officials.

Abby Zwerner accuses them of gross negligence for allegedly ignoring multiple warnings on the day of the shooting that the boy had a gun and was in a “violent mood”.

The 25-year-old teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, was shot in the hand and chest on January 6 as she sat at a reading table in her classroom.

She spent nearly two weeks in hospital and has had four operations since the shooting.

The shooting rattled the military shipbuilding community and sent shockwaves around America, with many wondering how a child so young could gain access to a gun and use it to shoot his teacher.

School doors
Messages of support for teacher Abby Zwerner on the front door of Richneck Elementary School in Newport News (AP)

Michelle Price, a school board spokesperson, said via email that the board had not yet been served with the lawsuit, adding the school division refers all legal claims information to its insurer.

“Our thoughts and prayers remain with Abby Zwerner and her ongoing recovery,” said a board statement, calling the safety and wellbeing of staff and students its utmost priority.

“The School Board and the school division’s leadership team will continue to do whatever it takes to ensure a safe and secure teaching and learning environment across all our schools.”

George Parker, the former superintendent, did not immediately return a mobile phone message. A message left on a mobile phone listing for Ebony Parker also was not returned.

Briana Foster-Newton’s lawyer, Pamela Branch, has said she was unaware of reports that the boy had a gun at school on the day of the shooting.

“Mrs Briana Foster-Newton will vigorously defend any charges brought against her as a part of the lawsuit filed by Ms Zwerner and respond accordingly,” Ms Branch said in a statement.

No one has been charged in the shooting.

The superintendent was fired by the school board after the shooting, while the assistant principal resigned.

The principal was reassigned to another job within the school district. The board also voted to install metal detectors in every school in the district, beginning with Richneck, and to purchase clear backpacks for all students.

In the lawsuit, Ms Zwerner’s lawyers say all of the defendants knew the boy “had a history of random violence” at school and at home, including an episode the year before, when he “strangled and choked” his kindergarten teacher.

“All defendants knew that (the pupil) attacked students and teachers alike, and his motivation to injure was directed toward anyone in his path, both in and out of school, and was not limited to teachers while at the school,” the lawsuit states.

Police outside a school
Police look on as students return to Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Va., on January 30 after the shooting (The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

He was placed on a modified schedule “because he was chasing students around the playground with a belt in an effort to whip them with it”, and was cursing staff and teachers, it says.

Under the modified schedule, one of the boy’s parents was required to accompany him during the school day.

“Teachers’ concerns with (the boy’s) behaviour (were) regularly brought to the attention of Richneck Elementary School administration, and the concerns were always dismissed,” the lawsuit states.

School Shooting Newport News
No-one has been charged over the incident (The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

The boy’s parents did not agree for him to be put in special education classes where he would be with other students with behavioural issues, the lawsuit states.

Ms Zwerner suffered permanent bodily injuries, physical pain, mental anguish, lost earnings and other damages, the lawsuit states. It seeks 40 million dollars in compensatory damages.

Last month, Newport News prosecutor Howard Gwynn said his office will not criminally charge the boy because he would not understand the legal system and what a charge means. Mr Gwynn has yet to decide if any adults will be charged.

The boy used his mother’s gun, which police said was purchased legally. A lawyer for the boy’s family has said that the firearm was secured on a cupboard shelf and had a lock on it.

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