School Searched 6-Year-Old’s Backpack Before Newport News Shooting, Officials Say

Abigail Zwerner, the teacher, was in the middle of a routine lesson in her first-grade classroom when, the authorities said, the boy suddenly pulled out the gun and aimed it at her.

At the time of the shooting, “the firearm was displayed from his person, not from his backpack,” said Steve Drew, the chief of police in Newport News.

A single bullet pierced Ms. Zwerner, 25, who was seriously injured but has been recovering at a hospital. Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to children under 14, but in contrast to some other states, such as Oregon and Massachusetts, there is not a broad law that requires all guns to be safely stored in homes.

Mark Anthony Garcia Sr., 38, the father of a second grader at Richneck Elementary, said that his “heart fell” during the virtual meeting on Thursday night when the superintendent said the school had been aware of a possible weapon in the building. According to Mr. Garcia, the superintendent said that the child’s backpack had been searched when the child arrived at school around 11:30 a.m., about two and a half hours before the shooting.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions here and missed opportunities for safety for all — not just students, for everyone in that building,” he said.

As in many other school shootings, the case has renewed conversation around children’s mental health and school security. Schools have also come under scrutiny for their responses before attacks, such as in the 2021 shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan. In that case, a student, Ethan Crumbley, pleaded guilty to killing four students and injuring seven other people. After a teacher observed violent drawings in class, and his parents declined to take him home, he remained in school. His belongings were not searched.

School officials in Newport News have quickly moved to install metal detectors at all school buildings, a strategy that has stirred debate but has also grown more popular as school shootings have become more common.

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