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Family of 6-year-old Virginia boy who shot first grade teacher says firearm 'was secured'

"Our heart goes out to our son’s teacher and we pray for her healing in the aftermath of such an unimaginable tragedy," the family said in a statement through their attorney.
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The family of the 6-year-old boy who shot a first-grade teacher in her classroom said the gun was secured at their home when the student took it.

Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children. The firearm our son accessed was secured,” the family said in a statement provided by their attorney, James Ellenson.

“Our heart goes out to our son’s teacher and we pray for her healing in the aftermath of such an unimaginable tragedy as she selflessly served our son and the children in the school. She has worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son. We thank her for her courage, grace and sacrifice. We grieve alongside all of the other teachers, families and administrators for how this horrific incident has impacted them, our community, and the nation."

Abigail Zwerner was critically wounded in the shooting Jan. 6 as she was teaching about 20 students at a Newport News, Virginia, school.

Zwerner released from the hospital this week, a spokesperson for Riverside Regional Medical Center said Thursday.

"She continues her recovery as an outpatient with the support of family, friends and health professionals," the spokesperson said.

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said the boy's mother legally bought the gun, which the boy took from his home. He said a key element in the investigation will be to determine whether the gun was properly secured. No charges have been announced.

The family said the child is disabled.

“Our son suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day. Additionally, our son has benefitted from an extensive community of care that also includes his grandparents working alongside us and other caregivers to ensure his needs and accommodations are met. The week of the shooting was the first week when we were not in class with him. We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives.”

Since the shooting, the statement added, the boy has been in a hospital receiving the “treatment he needs.”

“We continue to pray for his teacher’s full recovery, and for her loved ones who are undoubtedly upset and concerned. At the same time, we love our son and are asking that you please include him and our family in your prayers,” the statement said.

The school system’s superintendent, George Parker III, said in a Jan. 12 virtual town hall that wasn’t public that the boy had gone to school late and that his book bag was inspected when he arrived at the office to sign in, according to parents who watched the meeting.

“At least one administrator was notified of a possible weapon,” Parker said in a video reviewed by NBC News.

Police tape hangs from a sign post outside Richneck Elementary School following a shooting on Jan. 7, 2023, in Newport News, Va.
Police tape hangs from a signpost outside Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 7 after a shooting. Jay Paul / Getty Images file

A police spokeswoman said authorities also determined through their investigation that “a school employee was notified of a possible firearm at Richneck Elementary before the shooting occurred,” adding, “The Newport News Police Department was not notified of this information prior to the incident.”

Further details haven't been made available about who conducted the search, why the gun wasn’t found and whether the child’s clothing was physically examined.

A police representative cited the investigation Thursday in declining comment. The school district couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

At a raucous school board meeting Tuesday night, parents, teachers and students told the superintendent and board members that teachers weren't able to properly discipline problematic students.

Attendees also said the district has failed to properly protect students and staff members, saying there have been three incidents of gun violence on school properties in 17 months.

Before the shooting at Richneck, in September 2021, a 16-year-old fired several shots in a busy hallway at Heritage High School during lunchtime, injuring two 17-year-olds, NBC affiliate WAVY of Portsmouth reported.

The shooter was sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to the station.

Less than two months later, in December, Demari Batten, 18, fatally shot Justice Dunham, 17, in the parking lot of Menchville High School after a football game against Woodside High School, also in the Newport News Public Schools system, according to WAVY.

Quinn Chambers, 26, who has a son in kindergarten at Richneck, told NBC News at the school board meeting: "The district let us down. It's the parents job to raise the kids but the district's job to provide some sort of safety and security."

Richneck has been closed since the shooting.

District officials have said that when it reopens, it will be outfitted with a metal detector. The district has also secured funding for 90 state-of-the-art detectors that will be placed on every district campus, officials said.