Abby Zwerner, Newport News Teacher: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

abby zwerner

Facebook/Abby Zwerner Abigail 'Abby' Zwerner, Newport News teacher.

Abigail ‘Abby’ Zwerner is the first-grade teacher who was shot – police say by a 6-year-old student – at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, the police chief confirmed in a press conference.

Zwerner was providing class instruction, when the child displayed a firearm, pointed it at her, and fired one round, the chief, Steve Drew, said in the January 9, 2023, news conference. Zwerner raised her hand, and the round went through her hand and into her upper chest, Drew said, adding that she was still able to get all of her students out of the classroom. He said she is now in stable condition.

The child obtained the gun inside the family’s home, Drew said. He put the firearm in his backpack and brought it to school, according to the chief. He was brought to school by his mother, who was later interviewed by police, Drew said. “The firearm was legally purchased by the child’s mother out of York County,” Drew said. The child was taken to a local hospital, where he was evaluated, and a temporary detention order was obtained, according to Drew. The child is currently receiving treatment.

The shooting “was intentional,” Drew said, according to the press conference.

Abby Zwerner was initially identified by Daily Mail through information obtained by parent Sebastian Gonzalez-Hernandez, who told Daily Mail his own 6-year-old child was in the class when the shooting occurred on the afternoon of January 6, 2023.

“Praying for my son’s 1st grade teacher that got shot by a 6 year old at Richneck Elementary today! She is the best teacher and I really hope she pulls through this.🫶🏼” Gonzalez-Hernandez wrote on Facebook.

Dr. George Parker III, the school superintendent, confirmed in a news conference that the wounded teacher was a first-grade teacher. Heavy has confirmed that Abby Zwerner is one of four first-grade teachers listed on the Richneck Elementary school website; Facebook posts indicate that two of the others are not the wounded teacher.

“Thank you all for reaching out to check on me. I’m physically ok and so are all my littles,” wrote one of the other first-grade teachers, Anissa Miller, on Facebook

In an earlier news conference, the Newport News Police Chief, Steve Drew, confirmed the suspect’s young age, saying, “The individual is a 6-year-old student. He is right now in police custody.” He said in the news conference that Zwerner’s condition was improving, but she suffered a life-threatening wound. According to Drew, the shooting was not an accident.

On January 7, 2023, Newport News police wrote in a new statement: “In reference to the January 6 shooting at Richneck Elementary School, Chief Steve Drew met with the victim and her family this morning. She has improved and is currently listed in stable condition. Chief Drew asked that you continue to keep her in your thoughts and prayers.”

Here’s what you need to know:


1. The Parent Called Zwerner’s Actions Heroic, Saying She Screamed at the Other Students to Run Away

Gonzalez-Hernandez told Daily Mail that his son did not see the shooting. However, “he heard the gunshot go off, and turned around to see Miss Zwerner on the floor,” he told the site.

“She is an amazing teacher, so dedicated. My son absolutely loves her, and we’re devastated about what’s happened. We are all thinking of her and hoping that she gets better soon,” Gonzalez-Hernandez told Daily Mail.

Gonzalez-Hernandez told Daily Mail that Zwerner is a hero. “She screamed at her kids to run away” after the student opened fire, he told the site, adding, “Even after she’d been shot she was thinking about the safety of her children.”

Heavy has also reached out to Gonzalez-Hernandez.

U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) tweeted, “Deeply disturbed by this report and closely monitoring the situation. My thoughts go out to all families and first responders.”

The chief said in the January 9, 2023, press conference that the call came at 1:59 p.m., advising that a teacher was shot. At 2 p.m., officers were dispatched, he said, adding that, at 2:04 p.m., two sheriff’s deputies entered the classroom where the shooting took place.

They found a 6-year-old child who was being physically restrained by a school employee, and he struck the employee and was “combative,” Drew said in the news conference. He was placed in a police car, according to the chief, who said that there was a “systematic evacuation” of rooms.

At 2:06 p.m., medics arrived at the school, Drew said, adding that they made contact with the teacher and took her to the local hospital.


2. Zwerner, Who Went to James Madison University, Described How She Has Always ‘Loved Nature & the Calm & Peaceful Feeling It Brings Us’

On Facebook, Zwerner wrote that she “works at Newport News Public Schools,” and “studied Elementary Education at James Madison University.” She graduated from college in 2020, her page says.

According to her Facebook page, she went to West Point High School, lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, and is from Ruckersville, Virginia.

At JMU, Zwerner was in the Delta Gamma sorority, according to a Facebook post. She wrote:

I grew up outside of Charlottesville, so my family and I would always go on hikes at Shenandoah and play outdoors with a nice view of the mountains from our house. I’ve always loved nature and the calm and peaceful feeling it brings us. It’s a great way to self-reflect, de-stress, and be content with whatever is going on in your life at the moment.


3. Zwerner’s Father Was a Newport News Firefighter Who Died Young

According to his obituary in WyDaily.com, Zwerner’s father, John Zwerner, “was a Newport News firefighter and paramedic serving on the HAZMAT Team” when he died unexpectedly at age 56 at his home in 2020.

He was survived by his wife, Julie, Abby and her two siblings, the obituary says. “John was a devoted husband and father who always put his family’s needs before his own,” it reads.

Meanwhile, Abby Zwerner’s shooting caused the superintendent to speak out about gun violence.

“Today our students got a lesson in gun violence,” Parker said, speaking in the press conference. He said that guns need to be kept out of the hands of young people. “My teachers cannot control access to weapons … It comes on campus because of access in the community,” Parker said.

“I’m in shock,” the superintendent said of the student’s age, adding that he believes children need to be educated and kept safe. “Today was really a breakdown in what our values are as a community,” he said in the news conference. Parker said the shooting occurred in a first-grade classroom.


4. Zwerner Wrote That She Was Raised to ‘Know That EVERY PERSON Is Equal’

In 2016, Zwerner wrote a post on Facebook about volunteering at an elementary after school program in Harrisonburg, Virginia, as an elementary education major in college.

“Most of the children who attend are minorities in their schools with intellectual disabilities and low incomes,” she wrote. “While I and a few other volunteers were outside making sure the children got inside the building from the bus, a young, African American third grade girl stopped in front of us and said, ‘I hate Trump because he hates people like me!’ and continued to walk inside with her head down.”

The post continued:

I was speechless and felt my heart literally drop. This girl is too young to even feel racism and hate, let alone having this feeling of racism and hate coming from our newly elected President. I cannot begin to fathom what her and her family are thinking and going through at home, their jobs, and her classes at school. Every person, let alone a child, should NOT be in the position to feel threatened and to feel unwanted because of what they have heard and seen Trump do. My heart breaks not only for this helpless child, but for everyone else Trump has disregarded, pushed aside, made fun of, put down, and laughed at. What happened to the people of America? I was luckily and happily raised to know that EVERY PERSON is equal, regardless of their cultural background, their religion, their sexuality, their color of skin, their education; every person has the chance to be treated the same.


5. The Student Used a Handgun to Shoot the Teacher During a Classroom ‘Altercation,’ Police Say

According to Drew, speaking in the news conference, police are working with the Commonwealth’s attorney and others to try to figure out how to deal with the incident, due to the young age of the suspect.

The teacher was shot in a classroom, Drew said, after an “altercation.” The student had the handgun, he said.

Drew said authorities are trying to figure out where the youth got the gun, and he added, “As you can imagine, this is a hard situation.”

The teacher’s condition is not clear, according to a press release from Newport News police.

Authorities have not formally named Zwerner.

“This occurred in a classroom. It was isolated,” Drew said in the press conference.

“The altercation was between a 6 year old, the student who did have the firearm, and then the teacher, and then a round was fired. Like I said, she suffered a gunshot wound and was transferred to the hospital,” added Drew said in the news conference.

A statement from Newport News Public Schools confirmed that there was a “shooting incident at Richneck Elementary School” in which a teacher was injured and taken to a local hospital.

“All of the students are safe. The perpetrator is in police custody,” the statement, posted to the district’s Facebook page, read.

The school’s Facebook page says, “Richneck is a K-5 elementary school located in Newport News, Virginia.”

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