Tragic Wounding of Virginia Teacher Abby Zwerner Raises Series Questions

Image Source: The Times

A January 6th shooting in an elementary school in Newport News Virginia, raises several critical questions. And could have implications that affect elementary school policies regarding threats.

Over a week ago, a six-year-old boy who had previously threatened his teacher’s life walked into his classroom with full intent to follow through. According to Fox News, the student snuck a 9mm handgun into his backpack, onto school grounds, and into the classroom. And in what seems like a scene in a horror movie opened fire on his teacher.

Breakdown of the Zwerner Incident

Zwerner, the target, was amid instruction when the young boy pulled out the handgun and began firing. It is reported that Zwerner first sustained a wound to the hand before being shot once more in her chest. Thankfully no one else was injured, and Zwerener was the hero. Despite the sustained injuries, she helped ensure the safety of other students.

The Tragedy of It All

This incident is tragic on so many levels. So many have been impacted by this unfortunate event, including the onlooking students. Unfortunately, no one can judge the traumatic effect such an incident would have on witnessing class members. So given the magnitude of such a tragedy of this nature, the pertinent question is who is culpable. Who shoulders the blame for this horrendous event?

A Case of Negligence

In this case, it’s hard to determine where culpability lies. If anything, it is shared. The umbrella issue is textbook negligence. The Legal Dictionary defines negligence as “the failure to exercise the care toward others which a reasonable or prudent person would do in the circumstances or taking action which such a reasonable person would not.”

The lack of due diligence is apparent. According to Fox News, school officials were aware of the threats against Zwerner. She had reported the boy’s behavior and statements that promised harm. However, nothing was done about the issue. This is problematic. Given the upheaval in mass shootings over the years, such threats bear significant credence. Logically due diligence would require a follow-up on such a serious threat, no matter how innocent it may seem. To not follow up would indicate negligent behavior.

A Rebuttal

However, one must acknowledge the perpetrator’s age. The expectancy that a child of six would follow up on such a threat is relatively low. There aren’t many precedents for students of that age who can carry out a pre-meditated attack of this nature. His ability to not only make a threat but also plan out, access a weapon, and act raises an entirely new set of questions regarding not only the age of where one is cognizant of intent, but parental oversight and accessibility to firearms.

Too Many Faux Pas

In this situation, too many people dropped the ball. It is also reported that the Superintendent was alerted to the fact that the student had a weapon via a tip. Thereafter the bag was searched, but the search did not uncover the gun. This again raises the question, was due diligence served?

Current Updates on the Werner Incident

As of present, there remains a lack of clarity. Thus, the investigation is still underway. However, Zwerner survived the attack and is said to be stable. And the young man’s parents have issued a statement that read, “Our heart goes out to our son’s teacher, and we pray for her healing in the aftermath of such an imaginable tragedy….”

The child is currently being held; however, what is ahead for the young man is unclear. Due to his age, he falls into the grey area regarding criminal prosecution. As Fox News notes, Virginia prevents trying a child as an adult. And due to his age, he’s not old enough to be sentenced to a Juvenile detention center. Furthermore, the “Infancy defense” stature also heavily impacts any argument that poses criminal intent.

The Aftermath of the Werner Incident

While there is still much to sort through, the impact of this incident is far-reaching. First, it begs the question of capability. At what age do we determine a child is capable of pre-meditated attacks? Second, it also raises the question of what level of security should be available at the elementary level. Thirdly, is their protocol for threats? If so, what are those protocols, and how are they applied?

Furthermore, at what point do administrators need to step in when it is a Kindergartner or first-grader making the threat? Finally, of course, there are questions about parental culpability. Were they aware of the threats their son had made? Was there a change in his behavior that went unnoticed or ignored? Did he show undue interest in the weapon before the event? Obviously, he was cognizant enough to know how to handle a gun to aim it and shoot his target twice.


There will be much more that will come of this story. And indeed, some policy changes to follow. And it’s necessary. As we see evolvement in incidents such as this, a shift in policy to address such is indeed in order

Written By: Renae Richardson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: