According to district authorities in Newport News, Virginia, on the day that a first-grade teacher was shot in her classroom last week, a school staffer, acting on a tip, checked a 6-year-old boy’s backpack to look for a pistol.
Despite the police accusing the boy of shooting his teacher at Richneck Elementary School later that afternoon, school district officials stated no weapon had been discovered.
In a case that has already received considerable attention due to the child’s young age, the revelation that an employee had searched the backpack raised doubts about the effectiveness of the school’s response. This added a new level of anxiety to the contentious discussion about guns and school safety.
The information was initially presented by the district superintendent at a virtual meeting for parents on Thursday, which was covered by a nearby television station, WAVY-TV.
The superintendent informed parents that “at least one administrator was informed of a probable weapon,” according to WAVY-TV.
Michelle Price, a district spokesperson for Newport News Public Schools, acknowledged on Friday that a staff member had examined the child’s backpack “after it was suspected that the youngster may have a weapon.”
However, the Newport News Police Department said in a statement on Friday that the information was not sent to them before the incident.
The sequence of events on January 6 and precisely what transpired between the boy’s arrival at school and the shooting about two o’clock are still mostly unknown. Who alerted the employee, what data was at hand, or what sort of search was made are all unknown.
At a press conference on Monday, the police claimed that the youngster had taken the pistol, which his mother had lawfully bought, from home, packed it in his bag, and carried it to school.
According to the authorities, the youngster suddenly pulled out the pistol and pointed it at the first-grade teacher Abigail Zwerner as she was midway through a typical lecture.
According to Newport News police chief Steve Drew, at the moment of the incident, “the handgun was shown from his person, not from his backpack.”
Ms. Zwerner, 25, who was gravely hurt but is now recuperating at a hospital, was struck by a single bullet. In contrast to several other states, including Oregon and Massachusetts, Virginia does not have a comprehensive legislation requiring all weapons to be stored safely in households. Virginia law only forbids leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to minors under the age of 14.
When the superintendent revealed that Richneck Elementary had been made aware of a potential weapon in the facility at the virtual meeting on Thursday night, Mark Anthony Garcia Sr., 38, the father of a second-grader there, said his “heart dropped.” Approximately two and a half hours prior to the incident, Mr. Garcia claims that the superintendent stated that the kid’s backpack had been examined when the youngster arrived at school at 11:30 a.m.
There are many unresolved issues and lost possibilities for everyone’s safety in the facility, not just the children, he added.
The incident has reignited the issue about children’s mental health and school safety, as it has in many prior school shootings. Schools have also come under fire for their pre-attack preparations, as shown in the Oxford High School shooting in Michigan in 2021. Ethan Crumbley, a teenager, admitted to murdering four pupils and injured seven others in that incident. His parents refused to take him home when a teacher saw violent drawings in class, so he stayed at school. His possessions weren’t looked through.
Metal detectors have been swiftly installed in all school buildings in Newport News by school authorities, a measure that has sparked controversy but has also gained popularity as school shootings have become more frequent.
According to a recent poll by the National Center for Education Statistics, 6 percent of public schools reported utilising metal detectors everyday for all or the majority of pupils, up from 2 percent in the 2017–18 academic year. Random metal detector use was recorded in 9% of public schools, up from 5% in the previous year. The expansion coincides with the spread of additional security measures like emergency buttons and closed classroom doors.
The head of the state’s teachers union, the Virginia Education Association, James Fedderman, noted that using metal detectors is simply one tactic. He emphasised the importance of mental health and dispute resolution while citing other strategies, such as installing security cameras and barring doors.
Experts advise engaging with any pupils who exhibit early indicators of anxiety or aggression in order to prevent a shooting on school property before a gun ever enters the building.
Metal detectors and certain other monitoring techniques have come under fire for their inability to consistently stop shootings while also having a detrimental impact on students of colour. Nationally, schools with a large proportion of non-white kids are more likely to employ the devices. About 28,000 students were enrolled in Newport News Public Schools as of the 2017–18 academic year, with a majority of Black and almost a quarter of White children with lesser proportions of Hispanic and Asian pupils.
George Parker III, the superintendent of Newport News Public Schools, stated at a news conference on Monday that he “hates to be at this stage where I’m considering this” and that “my board members know how I feel about having our schools appear anything like a jail.”
However, he said, “students won’t learn anyhow if we can’t preserve safety, or at least get to the point where we can have a productive and safe school day.”
Mr. Garcia stated that while he agreed that metal detectors should be used in schools, he also wished to see the implementation of additional security measures, such as the use of transparent bags and more security personnel.
He said that his 8-year-old kid is too young to really comprehend what transpired at his school and is eager to meet his pals once more.
The man continued, “But he says to me, ‘Dad, I’m not sure whether I’m ready to go back to that school,'” he added. The only thing we can do in this scenario, I informed him, is try. You must make an effort to allow them to resolve the issue.
Follow us on Twitter