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Virginia Teacher Shot by 6-year-old Opens Up about her Exhausting Recovery: ‘I try to stay Positive’

Abigail Zwerner, a first-grade Virginia teacher who was critically injured after a 6-year-old student intentionally shot her during class, said her recovery remains exhausting. On the day of the incident, Zwerner was instructing her class when the student took out a 9 mm handgun, legally purchased by his mother, when a single gunshot was fired. “The initial gunshot went through my left hand and ruptured the middle bone as well as the index finger and the thumb,” Zwerner said in an interview with Savannah Guthrie, which aired earlier today, “The gunshot then went into my chest… And I still have some bullet fragments up here.” The incident could have been fatal, but it is believed that the gunshot going through her hand first is what most likely saved her. 

According to her doctors, it is unclear whether she will ever regain normal function in her left arm, and to this day, Zwerner continues to attend physical therapy which she deemed as ‘exhausting’. In addition to the damage done to her hand and chest, one of the physical scars healing is a wound on the side of her body where doctors inserted a chest tube after her lung collapsed in the wake of the shooting. “I didn’t know at the time that my lung had collapsed, but I started not being able to breathe, very raspy breaths, and my vision started going out,” Zwerner said. “I remember I went to the office and I just passed out. I thought I had died.”

 Steve Drew, the chief of police at Newport News Police Department, said during a press conference on Jan. 9 that Zwerner is a hero. In fact, after the gun was fired on the day of the shooting, Zwerner said her initial reaction after being shot was that the classroom was no longer safe for the rest of her students, and she needed to get them out of the classroom. She said the students were “screaming” after the firearm went off, and despite her injuries, she evacuated her students and was the last to leave her classroom. 

“For going through what I’ve gone through, I try to stay positive. You know, try to have a positive outlook on what’s happened and where my future’s heading,” Zwerner says. She believes she survived for a reason, and if she could talk to her first-graders, she’d tell each one of them that she loves them. Zwerner also says that she is grateful that they are all alive, safe, and healthy. 

Prosecutors in Newport News announced on March 8 that the student would not face criminal charges, saying that they did not believe Virginia’s laws supported charging a child that young with such a serious offense. However, the school system has faced backlash in the aftermath of the incident after multiple teachers said they warned administrators about the student in advance. Zwerner said that she sought an administrator’s help the morning of the incident after the child threatened to beat up another student. Further on in the day, a second teacher later went to an administrator and searched the boy’s backpack. No firearm was found after conducting the search, but it was also reported by a third teacher that the boy had shown another student the gun during recess. It is clear that there were failures on multiple levels, and adults that were in positions of authority that could have prevented this tragedy from happening simply did not.

The family of the boy has also said the boy has an acute disability and, following the shooting, was receiving the “treatment he needs” under a court-ordered temporary detention at a medical facility. The shooting also brought about other changes to Newport News schools and Richneck, where metal detectors were installed. Additionally, the school’s principal at the time of the shooting, Briana Foster Newton, has since been removed from her position. 

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