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Tipsheet

Another Chilling Detail Emerges From Disturbing School Shooting in Virginia

Steve Helber

Earlier this month, a disturbing school shooting occurred in Newport News, Virginia. A six-year-old pulled a gun from a backpack and shot the teacher, Abby Zwerner, who was instructing the class. Even while wounded, Zwerner could evacuate the rest of their classroom to safety, finally coming upon a woman waiting to pick up her grandchildren, pleading to call for help before passing out from blood loss.

Zwerner is expected to recover fully, but at that young age—you’d think this was an accident. Police concluded quickly that this was not the case. It also appears to have been preventable, with this youngster exhibiting an array of red flags before the shooting, including what some are calling murderous impulses. 

Six-year-olds can exhibit what appears to be psychopathic behavior, too, and Ms. Zwerner was a victim of that happenstance. The student reportedly wanted to set a teacher on fire as well. School administrators were warned, but they ignored it. Regarding the child’s overall education record, that cannot be disclosed due to federal privacy laws. Also, this problem child was so bad that his parents had to accompany him to school to ensure he didn’t act out. He attended school unescorted on the day of the shooting (via WaPo): 

The Virginia teacher who was shot by a 6-year-old student repeatedly asked administrators for help with the boy but officials downplayed educators’ warnings about his behavior, including dismissing his threat to light a teacher on fire and watch her die, according to messages from teachers obtained by The Washington Post. 

The previously unreported incidents raise fresh questions about how Richneck Elementary School in Newport News handled the troubled student before police say he shot Abigail Zwerner as she taught her first-grade class earlier this month. Authorities have called the shooting “intentional” but are still investigating the motive.

Many parents are already outraged over Richneck officials’ management of events before the shooting. Newport News Superintendent George Parker III has said school officials got a tip the boy had a gun that day and searched his backpack, but that staffers never found the weapon before authorities say the 6-year-old shot Zwerner. Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said his department was not contacted about the report that the boy had a weapon before the shooting. 

[…] 

School district spokeswoman Michelle Price said in a phone interview late Friday that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law protecting students’ privacy, prohibits her from releasing information related to the 6-year-old. 

“I cannot share any information in a child’s educational record,” she said. “A lot of what you’re asking is part of the child’s educational record, and it’s also a matter of an ongoing police investigation and an internal school investigation. Unfortunately, some of these details I’m not even privy to.” 

[…] 

Screenshots of a conversation held online between school employees and Parker shortly after the shooting show educators claiming that Zwerner raised alarms about the 6-year-old and sought assistance during the school year. 

“she had asked for help,” one staffer wrote in that chat, referring to Zwerner. 

“several times,” came another message. 

“Yes she did.” 

“two hours prior” 

“all year.” 

[…] 

The lead special education teacher was frustrated because she has a high caseload, according to the account. Some aides regularly missed work, including for as long as a week at a time.

The teacher further alleged in her account that the boy was not receiving the educational services he needed, that it was difficult to get help with him during outbursts and that he was sometimes seen wandering the school unsupervised. 

The boy’s family said in a statement Thursday, the first public remarks his relatives have given about the shooting, that the 6-year-old was “under a care plan” that “included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day.” That stopped the week of the shooting, the statement said.

Washington Post’s lengthy piece about this kid paints a disturbing picture of someone who should have never been allowed to attend this school. Moreover, the combination of reported resource issues and apparent administrative incompetence seems to have prevented any response, allowing this crisis to fester.

Also, how did a six-year-old ever come into possession of the firearm? No, I’m not trying to peddle an anti-gun talking point—it’s already illegal to keep a loaded firearm within reach of someone under 14 in Virginia. No safe storage law in the commonwealth right now requires guns to be locked away, but lawsuits from this fiasco will undoubtedly be filed. Any person with common sense who has a kid acting like this should have known better.

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