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Former assistant principal of Virginia school where 6-year-old shot his teacher has been charged with child abuse

Ebony Parker was indicted by a grand jury on charges related to the day of the shooting last year at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, court records show.
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The former assistant principal of a Virginia elementary school where a 6-year-old student shot his teacher last year has been indicted on child abuse charges, court records show.

Ebony Parker faces eight counts related to the day of the shooting, according to the online docket, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. A warrant has been issued for her arrest, the docket shows.

Court records filed in Newport News Circuit Court were unsealed Tuesday, about a month after a grand jury filed the charges.

NBC News could not immediately obtain a copy of the indictment for details of the charges.

The Newport News Commonwealth Attorney's Office did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment. A Newport News Public Schools spokesperson said the district "does not have a statement." It was not immediately known whether Parker had legal representation, and she could not be reached for comment.

The shooting of first-grade teacher Abigail Zwerner on Jan. 6, 2023, raised concerns about potential security failures at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News and in a school district rattled by other incidents of gun violence at other campuses.

Authorities say Zwerner was intentionally shot by one of her students but escorted her panicked class to safety. A bullet ripped through Zwerner's left hand, rupturing bones, before it lodged in her upper chest, leaving behind fragments.

Three months after the shooting, she filed a $40 million lawsuit against the school district alleging that administrators failed to listen to multiple warnings from staff members and students that the child had a handgun. Parker resigned in the wake of the suit.

Lawyers for Zwerner welcomed additional charges Tuesday.

“These charges are very serious and underscore the failure of the school district to act to prevent the tragic shooting of Abby Zwerner,” attorneys Diane Toscano, Kevin Biniazan and Jeffrey Breit said in a statement. “The school board continues to deny their responsibility to Abby, and this indictment is just another brick in the wall of mounting failures and gross negligence in their case.”

Toscano said in an interview that aired Wednesday on NBC's "TODAY" show that Parker “should have called the police after multiple warnings that a child may have a gun.”

Breit noted that a student saw the boy take the gun out of his pocket on the playground and reported it to a teacher. When the teacher requested to search the child’s person, “the assistant principal said no,” he said.

The boy's mother, Deja Taylor, was sentenced to two years in December on a state charge of felony child neglect.

Taylor must begin her state sentence after she finishes serving 21 months on a related federal charge. She pleaded guilty in June to a charge of using marijuana while owning a gun, which is illegal under federal law, and was sentenced in November.

James Ellenson, a lawyer for Taylor, told NBC News on Tuesday that he would have wanted to see charges against school officials sooner, believing his client does not share all the burden of responsibility on the day of the shooting.

The charges against a former school official represent a new frontier in school gun-violence-related prosecution, Ellenson added.

"I think we're plowing new ground," he said.

NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos added that "cases like these are about sending a very clear message: that school shootings are so horrible, we are willing to depart from the traditional rules and hold people responsible that really, historically, have not been held responsible before."

The local prosecutor, Howard Gwynn, told NBC News after the shooting that he would not seek charges against the student, given his age.

Seven separate lawsuits were filed in January on behalf of parents and guardians claiming multiple counts of negligence against school leadership. Emily Mapp Brannon, a lawyer for the families, said in a statement that "the suffering of the students of Richneck has been ignored."

"These charges suggest that there is sufficient evidence that the students of Richneck were placed in peril by the very hands entrusted to protect them," Brannon said. "As a representative of seven families, I remain optimistic that our criminal justice system will provide answers to the Richneck community. For the first time in over a year, the families may find comfort in knowing that the administration is being held accountable."