Virginia prosecutors are focusing their criminal probe on the elementary school where first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner was shot by her 6-year-old student earlier this year.
Howard Gwynn, the state’s attorney in Newport News, filed a petition for a special grand jury to probe if any “security failures” contributed to the Jan. 6, 2023, shooting at Richneck Elementary School that seriously wounded 25-year-old Zwerner, who says she still has bullet fragments in her chest and has undergone several surgeries on her hand.
Prosecutors are looking into whether any “actions or omissions” of any school employees could lead to criminal charges, according to court documents released Tuesday. Gwynn wrote that an investigation could also lead to recommendations “in the hopes that such a situation never occurs again.”
Gwynn’s petition was released a day after his office charged the boy’s mother, Deja Taylor, with felony child neglect and a misdemeanor count of endangering a child by reckless storage of a firearm. The child used his mother’s 9 mm handgun to shoot Zwerner. Police say the weapon was legally purchased. The boy is not facing charges.
Abby Zwerner was shot by a 6-year-old student on Jan. 6. (Facebook / Abby Zwerner)
“The Commonwealth’s Attorney has also petitioned the Circuit Court to empanel a Special Grand Jury to continue the investigation into any security issues that may have contributed to this shooting,” officials said in a statement Monday. “In accordance with Virginia Law, the grand jury’s work must be confidential, and their investigation will continue as long as necessary to determine whether others are criminally responsible for the shooting of January 6.”
Students and police gather outside Richneck Elementary School after a shooting, Jan. 6, 2023, in Newport News, Virginia. Teacher Abby Zwerner says school administration ignored warning signs before a 6-year-old shot her in class. (Billy Schuerman / The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
“The safety and security of Newport News students is of utmost importance. The Special Grand Jury will investigate to determine whether additional charges against additional persons are justified by the facts and the law,” Gwynn said. “If the Special Grand Jury determines that additional persons are criminally responsible under the law, it can return additional indictments.”
Last week, Zwerner filed a $40 million lawsuit against the school system, accusing school officials of gross negligence and of ignoring multiple warnings from teachers and other school employees that the boy had taken a gun to school on the day of the shooting.
Police look on as students return to Richneck Elementary School on Jan. 30, 2023, in Newport News, Virginia. Prosecutors are probing whether school administrators should face charges after a teacher was shot by a first-grade student in class. (Billy Schuerman / The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
Zwerner also alleges that school officials knew the boy “had a history of random violence” at school and at home, including that he “strangled and choked” his kindergarten teacher.
“Our lawsuit makes clear that we believe the school division violated state law, and we are pursuing this in civil court,” Diane Toscano, an attorney for Zwerner, said Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.