By: Bridie Beamish
On Jan. 6, Abigail Zwerner, 25, was in the middle of teaching a lesson when one of her first grade students pulled out a handgun and, according to the Chief of Police Steve Drew, intentionally fired it at her from his desk. The six-year-old student shot Zwerner at Richneck Elementary School in Virginia. Zwerner raised her hand for protection, but the bullet went through it and into her chest, leaving her with life-threatening injuries before doctors stabilized her.
Directly after the shooting occurred, Zwerner sent her students into the hallway while another employee ran in to restrain the six-year-old. Zwerner then staggered to the office to ask for help before fainting. When she began walking to the office, Drew reported that she turned around to ensure all of her students were safe. He declared, “I believe she did save lives because I don’t know what else might have happened.”
The nine-millimeter Taurus handgun the child used belonged to his mother, who legally purchased it. Police have not revealed how the gun wound up in the child’s possession, where the mother stored it, or how he knew how to use the weapon. Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to children under the age of 14, and violations of this law may result in a misdemeanor. While the mother has not yet faced charges as of Jan.12, police reported that it was certainly a possibility.
Though the school had protective measures in place, such as metal detectors and random checks of pupils, the child still managed to get the gun into his classroom although how he did is unknown. Once at the scene, police took the unidentified student into custody and placed him in a medical facility for evaluation. Authorities will also seek a temporary detention order.
After administrators placed the school on lockdown, fearful children sat anxiously in their classrooms. In an interview with CNN, a fifth-grade student reported, “I was scared…it was like my first lockdown, and I didn’t know what to do, so I just hid under my desk like everybody was.” With no awareness of the situation at hand, she added, “I was thinking that…a man was going to shoot us.” The school remained closed the following week to give families and students “time to heal.”
This shooting came just six days into the start of the new year, following a record-breaking 300 school shootings that occurred in 2022. With debates over gun laws and schools’ level of protection against gun violence, many families fear for the safety of their children and anticipate the casualties that 2023 may bring. After receiving a text from her child begging for help during the elementary school’s lockdown, one mother described her fear by explaining, “I couldn’t breathe. I was in shock.”
(Sources: BBC, CNN, K-12 Dive, NY Times)
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