In January, Abigail Zwerner, a 25-year-old first-grade teacher from Virginia was shot by her 6-year-old student, sustaining a life-altering injury to her left hand, a collapsed lung, and ongoing emotional trauma. Now, nearly three months after the ordeal, Zwerner’s attorneys have revealed she’s filed a $40 million negligence lawsuit in answer to the inefficacy of the school district officials she claims could’ve prevented it.
“I can tell you there were failures on multiple levels in this case, and there were adults that were in positions of authority that could have prevented this tragedy from happening and did not,” Diane Toscano, one of Zwerner’s lawyers told NBC News.
Defendants named in Zwerner’s suit include the Newport News school board, former superintendent George Parker III, ex-Richneck Elementary School principal Briana Foster Newton, and the former assistant principal, Ebony Parker.
Just before the shooting the student, who the suit states had a “history of random violence,” was given a one-day suspension for breaking Zwerner’s cellphone. The following day, he returned with a 9mm Taurus handgun and opened fire as she sat with other students at a reading table. When the story first made headlines, police chief Steve Drew called the shooting intentional and that the boy had brought the legally-obtained firearm owned by his mother in his backpack.
Zwerner’s legal representation claims negligence occurred when the Newport News school failed to take meaningful action after three teachers approached the administration with concerns about the boy’s behavioral issues and speculation that he had a firearm on campus property. Days after the shooting, Superintendent George Parker so much as confirmed this to parents during a virtual meeting: “At least one administrator was notified of a possible weapon in the timeline that we’re reviewing and was aware that that student had, there was a potential that there was a weapon on campus.” However, Parker claimed that a search of the boy’s backpack did not yield a weapon—an assertion Zwerner’s attorneys disputed. Parker has since been fired.
Before she was wounded, Zwerner, too, reportedly texted a loved one saying the boy was armed and expressed frustration that school officials had yet to intervene. In a statement, the boy’s family said he had an “acute disability.” They also claimed the weapon had been “secured” in their home and that they have “always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children.”
In her first public interview, Zwerner told TODAY that even after four surgeries and “exhausting” occupational therapy, she has yet to retain full function of her hand and that doctors remain uncertain if she ever will.
“But, you know, for going through what I’ve gone through, I try to stay positive,” she said. “You know, try to have a positive outlook on what’s happened and where my future’s heading.”
“The Newport News school division had a duty to Abby,” Toscano told the Wall Street Journal. “But they failed her miserably that day.”