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Newport News School Was Warned 3 Times That 6-Year-Old Had a Gun, Lawyer Says

The New York Times logo The New York Times 4 days ago Paul Bibeau and Sarah Mervosh
Students and police gather outside of Richneck Elementary School after a shooting in Newport News, Va., earlier this month. © Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot, via Associated Press Students and police gather outside of Richneck Elementary School after a shooting in Newport News, Va., earlier this month.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — In the hours before a 6-year-old boy shot his first-grade teacher in Virginia this month, school leaders were warned three times that the boy might have a gun, a lawyer for the teacher said on Wednesday, including by a student who tearfully recounted seeing the gun at recess.

In announcing the teacher’s intent to file a lawsuit against the Newport News School District, the lawyer, Diane Toscano, laid out a series of escalating warnings that happened on Jan. 6, when the police say a 6-year-old boy took his mother’s gun from home, brought it to Richneck Elementary School and fired at his teacher, Abigail Zwerner, in a shooting that has shaken parents and teachers and led to a motion to fire the superintendent.

By about 12:30 p.m. on the day of the shooting, a teacher had searched the boy’s backpack, believing that he might have a gun, Ms. Toscano said. No gun was found, but the teacher reported to the school administration that she believed the boy had put the gun in his pocket before going outside for recess. Instead of searching the boy, Ms. Toscano said, an administrator dismissed the threat, saying that the 6-year-old “has little pockets.”

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Around 1 p.m. — an hour before the shooting — another teacher reported that a student had come to the teacher crying, saying that the boy had shown him the gun at recess and threatened to shoot the student if he told anyone, Ms. Toscano said.

“What did administrators do?” Ms. Toscano said at a news conference on Wednesday discussing plans to file the lawsuit. “Did administrators call the police? No. Did administrators lockdown the school? No. Did administrators evacuate the building? No. Did they confront the student? No.”

A third teacher also asked for permission to search the boy, Ms. Toscano said, but was told to wait, because the school day was almost over.

Shortly before 2 p.m., the police say, the boy pointed the gun at Ms. Zwerner and shot her in front of his classmates in their first-grade classroom.

A spokeswoman for Newport News Public Schools did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It was unclear when the lawsuit might be filed.

A school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday night to consider the job of the superintendent.

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