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Virginia school where 6-year-old shot his teacher set to reopen

Signs stand outside Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 25, 2023. The school is set to reopen Monday, Jan. 30, more than three weeks after a Jan. 6 shooting. Police have said a boy brought a 9mm handgun to school and intentionally shot his teacher, Abby Zwerner, as she was teaching her first-grade class. (AP Photo/Denise Lavoie, File)

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Stepped-up security and a new school administrator will be present as students return to the Virginia elementary school where a 6-year-old boy shot his teacher weeks ago.

Richneck Elementary School in Newport News was set to reopen Monday, more than three weeks after the Jan. 6 shooting. Police have said the boy brought a 9mm handgun to school and intentionally shot his teacher, Abby Zwerner, as she was teaching her first-grade class. The 25-year-old teacher was hospitalized for nearly two weeks but is now recovering at home.

The shooting sent shock waves through Newport News, a city of about 185,000 that is known for its shipbuilding industry. It has also raised questions nationwide about school security and how a child so young could gain access to a gun and shoot his teacher.

Days after the shooting, the Newport News School Board announced that walk-through metal detectors would be placed in every school in the district. At Richneck, two metal detection systems have been installed and two security officers have been assigned to the school, said Michelle Price, a spokesperson for the school district. Before the shooting, one security officer was assigned to Richneck and another elementary school. The officer was not at Richneck at the time of the shooting.

The security officers will also have a hand-held metal detector wand, Price said. New doors have been installed in classroom areas that didn’t have any, while other doors have been repaired or replaced, she added.

The principal and assistant principal both left their jobs after the shooting, and a new administrator has been appointed to lead the school as part of a personnel shake-up.

Karen Lynch, who has worked as a principal in Newport News for 17 years, said in a letter to Richneck families last week that she is now working “on special assignment” at Richneck. Lynch said emotional support services that have been provided to students, families and staff by support specialists, social workers and licensed therapists will continue after the school reopens.

School Superintendent George Parker, who was sharply criticized by parents and teachers after the shooting, was fired by the school board last week. Parker has said that at least one school administrator received a tip that the boy may have brought a weapon to school. He said the boy’s backpack was searched, but no weapon was found.

Zwerner’s lawyer, Diane Toscano, said that on the day of the shooting, concerned staff at Richneck warned administrators three times that the boy had a gun and was threatening other students, but the administration didn’t call police, remove the boy from class or lock down the school.

Police said the 9mm handgun was legally purchased by the boy’s mother. In a statement released through their attorney, the boy’s family said the gun was “secured.” Attorney James Ellenson told The Associated Press that his understanding is that the gun was in the mother’s closet on a shelf well over 6 feet (1.8 meters) high and had a trigger lock that required a key.