US school warned three times boy had gun before shooting: Lawyer

The representative for a teacher shot by a student says the incident could have been avoided if administrators had responded sooner.

Elementary school shooting
The marquee at the entrance of Richneck Elementary School in the US welcomed students with message of 'Happy New Year' on the day that a 6-year-old shot a teacher [File: John C Clark/The Associated Press]

A lawyer representing a teacher shot by a six-year-old student in the United States has said that school administrators were warned three times that the child had a gun but they failed to act.

The allegation on Wednesday comes nearly three weeks after the January 6 incident, which left Virginia teacher Abigail Zwerner seriously injured.

In Wednesday’s news conference, lawyer Diane Toscano also said that Zwerner, who was hospitalised for two weeks after being struck in the hand and chest by a single bullet, planned to sue the Newport News school district.

“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,” Toscano said. “But the administration could not be bothered.”

The incident has raised questions over school safety and the boy’s access to a firearm, and came amid years of high-profile shootings at US schools.

Toscano said that, at about 12:30pm (17:30 GMT), a teacher at Newport News’s Richneck Elementary School told administrators that she had taken it upon herself to search the boy’s book bag. The teacher warned that she thought he had the gun in his pocket.

virginia shooting
A candlelight vigil was held after first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner was shot by a student in Newport News, Virginia [John C Clark/The Associated Press]

After 1pm (18:00 GMT), another boy tearfully told his teacher that the student had shown him the gun and threatened to shoot him, according to Toscano. That teacher also allegedly reported the incident to administrators.

Another employee later asked for permission to search the boy after hearing about the gun but “was told to wait the situation out because the school day was almost over”, Toscano said.

Zwerner had herself told school administrators at approximately 11:15am (16:15 GMT) that day that the boy had threatened to beat up another child, the lawyer said.

The police chief of Newport News, a city of about 185,000, had previously characterised the shooting, which occurred in front of the class, as “intentional”.

Meanwhile, the district superintendent George Parker III previously said that at least one administrator was told on the day of the shooting that the boy might have had a weapon, but that no weapon was found when his backpack was searched.

Police said that school officials did not tell them about that tip before the shooting, which happened hours later. They also said the boy’s mother legally bought the gun used in the shooting.

In a statement last week, the boy’s family expressed regret and said the gun had been “secured”. They did not say how the child had accessed the firearm.

The family’s lawyer, James Ellenson, told The Associated Press news agency that his understanding was that the gun was in the mother’s closet, on a shelf more than 1.8 metres (6 feet) high, and had a trigger lock that required a key.

The family also said 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.

Source: News Agencies