Virginia teacher killed by 6-year-old boy: ‘I thought I was dead’

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — A Virginia teacher who was hit and hurt by her 6-year-old student said it changed her life and she has vivid memories and nightmares from that day.

“I will never forget the look on his face he gave me as he pointed the gun directly at me,” first grade teacher Abby Zwerner said during an exclusive interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie about the student. “She changed me. She changed my life.

She said she’s still in shock and can’t figure it out, in part of the interview that aired Tuesday morning on “Today.”

“I’m not sure when the shock will ever pass because of how surreal it was and the vivid memories I have of that day. I think about it daily. Sometimes I have nightmares,” she said.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the Jan. 6 shooting, Zwerner said in part of an interview that aired Monday on “NBC Nightly News” that he’s had a challenging recovery. She’s had four surgeries and has some days where she “can’t get out of bed.” Other days she can go on about her day of hers.

“For having been through what I have been through, I try to stay positive. You know, try to have a positive view of what happened and where my future is going” Zwerner said

Zwerner was hospitalized for nearly two weeks after being shot in the chest and left hand while teaching her class at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia. The shooting rocked the military shipbuilding community and sent shockwaves across the country, with many wondering how a child so young could have access to a gun and shoot her teacher.

In the moments following the shooting, Zwerner said the other first graders in his class were screaming.

She was terrified. But her concern centered around the children: “I just wanted to get my kids out of there.”

“I think even they knew they had to get out of there,” Zwerner said. “But they were extremely scared and screaming.”

What happened next is still kind of a blur. Zwerner ushered the boys out of the classroom.

He knew he needed help. The fire alarm had gone off, heightening her awareness that she had been hit.

He was having difficulty breathing. The vision of her failed.

“I went to the office and just passed out,” Zwerner said. “I thought I was dead.”

Zwerner didn’t know it at the time, but his lung had collapsed. Doctors said the bullet could have killed her. She probably survived because she had raised her hands.

“The initial gunshot went through my left hand and broke my middle bone as well as my index finger and thumb,” he said. “The gunshot then went into my chest here where it actually still remains. So I have the scar up here. And I still have some shrapnel up here.”

At the hospital, Zwerner called her mother “Mom” for the first time in a long time. He lives with her twin sister, who has been taking care of her since she got home, from cooking meals to taking her to doctor’s appointments.

The support from the outside world was “overwhelming” and difficult to understand.

“We have tons of handmade cards, handwritten cards with people’s stories,” Zwerner said.

Zwerner believes she survived for a reason. If she could talk to her first graders, she would tell each of them that she loves them.

“I’m very thankful that they are all alive,” she said. “And they’re safe, and they’re healthy. And I miss them a lot.

Zwerner told Guthrie that the gunshot wounds were gone. But he said they’re still a reminder that, “Hey, this happened to you. This is what your body has been through.

Zwerner plans to sue the district, according to a legal notice filed by his attorney. Newport News Public Schools did not immediately respond to an Associated Press email seeking comment on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Newport News chief prosecutor Howard Gwynn said his office would not charge the boy criminally because he would not understand the legal system and what a charge means. Gwynn has yet to decide if any adults will be charged.

The boy had fired his mother’s gun, which police said had been purchased legally. An attorney for the boy’s family said the firearm was secured to a closet shelf and had a padlock.

During Tuesday’s interview, Guthrie asked Zwerner what justice would mean to her.

“That’s a tough question to answer,” the teacher said.


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