The 6-year-old-boy who shot and wounded his teacher in Virginia this month had repeatedly threatened other students earlier that day but school administrators "paralyzed by apathy" refused to intervene, the teacher's lawyer said Wednesday.
The bullet remains lodged in teacher Abigail Zwerner's chest, her attorney said, and she faces a lifetime of physical and psychological recovery. Zwerner, 25, on Wednesday filed notice of intent to sue the Newport News School District for failing to respond to repeated threats reported on Jan. 6, according to her lawyer.
"Abby Zwerner was shot in front of those horrified kids and the school and community are living the nightmare, all because the school administration failed to act," attorney Diane Toscano said. "This should have never happened. It was preventable. And thank God Abby is alive."
Amid criticism and uproar over by parents and teachers, the school board voted to relieve district superintendent George Parker III of his duties effective Feb. 1 as part of a separation agreement and severance package.
Michelle Price, a spokesperson for Newport News Public Schools, told USA TODAY in an emailed statement that the district continued to investigate the shooting and could not comment on the statements made by Zwerner's lawyer because of that investigation.
Lawyer alleges school was warned 3 times
Toscano described the three warnings in a statement to reporters. According to the statement:
The boy had threatened to beat up another child around 11:15 a.m. that day, and Zwerner went to an administrator.
Another teacher around 12:30 p.m. reported to administrators she had searched the boy's bag because she heard he had a gun. She didn't find it but suggested he might have pocketed it when he went to recess.
Another teacher reported to administrators the student had shown a different child the gun and threatened to shoot him if he told.
"Abby and these other teachers tried to do the right thing," Toscano said. "On that day, over the course of a few hours, three different times – three times – school administration was warned by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had a gun on him at the school and was threatening people. But the administration could not be bothered."
School official to depart in wake of shooting
Newport News School District School Board announced Parker's departure following a special meeting Wednesday. Chair Lisa Surles-Law said the decision was made “without cause,” and said Parker has been a “capable division leader” who has served Newport News for nearly five years through challenging times.
The board voted 5-1 in favor of the separation agreement and severance package. Effective Feb. 1, Parker will be “relieved of his duties” as superintendent.
Parker had served Newport News for nearly five years. The board also named Michele Mitchell, who is currently the executive director of student advancement, as interim superintendent.
What's next in the case?
Toscano said the school district's response will be closely watched by both her client and the broader community. She suggested that fighting the lawsuit would indicate teachers are considered disposable.
"How could anyone find the courage to confidently face a class of students again?" Toscano said. "Since they can't roll back time and undo the callousness of the bureaucracy, they can do the right thing and admit what went wrong and fix it and take care of Abby now."
More information on 6-year-old who shot teacher
The boy's mother legally purchased the gun used in the shooting, police have said. The boy's family said in a statement last week that the gun was "secured." The family's attorney, James Ellenson, told The Associated Press that his understanding was that the gun was in the woman's closet on a shelf well over 6 feet high and had a trigger lock that required a key.
The family also said in its statement that 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.
Parker has said that at least one administrator was told on the day of the shooting that the boy might have had a weapon, but no weapon was found when his backpack was searched.
Contributing: Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Newport news school was warned before teacher shot by child: Lawyer