The family of a six-year-old boy who shot his teacher said he suffers from “an acute disability” and one of his parents usually accompanied him to class – but did not the week of the shooting.
Abigail Zwerner, 25, who was hit in the chest after a bullet went through her hand in the city of Newport News, Virginia, was released from hospital this week, medics said.
“Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children,” the boy’s parents, who have not been identified, said.
“The firearm our son accessed was secured.”
The statement, released through lawyer James S Ellenson, did not say specifically where the 9mm handgun was kept or how it was “secured”.
Mr Ellenson said he understands the gun was in the mother’s closet on a top shelf that is over six feet high. The weapon also had a trigger lock requiring a key, similar to a bike lock.
Asked how the child may have got the gun, Mr Ellenson said: “We don’t know.”
The family said the boy “was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day”.
His parents said the week of the shooting “was the first week when we were not in class with him. We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives”.
The statement did not define the boy’s disability, explain what his “care plan” was or if it was similar to other plans for disabled children.
Mr Ellenson said it was an “individualised education programme” provided to disabled pupils by law. Asked if the disability is intellectual or behavioural, Mr Ellenson said it is “all of the above”.
Mr Ellenson said the boy’s parents accompanied him to class for a number of weeks. He said he believes a parent would sit with the youngster during class “on occasion”.
“And then I guess it was a joint decision between the school and the parents that this was no longer necessary,” Mr Ellenson said.
The shooting, on January 6, has drawn international attention to Newport News, a shipbuilding city along the James River near Chesapeake Bay.
Police said the boy’s mother legally bought the gun but it was unclear how her son got access to it.
There was no warning or struggle before the youngster pointed the gun at Ms Zwerner as she taught her year two class at Richneck Elementary.
After being hit, she ushered the rest of her pupils out of the classroom – before being taken to hospital.
School admin staff were told before the shooting the boy may have a weapon but a search of his bag turned up nothing.
The child’s parents said in their statement they are praying for Ms Zwerner’s “healing in the aftermath of such an unimaginable tragedy as she selflessly served our son and the children in the school”.
“She has worked diligently and compassionately to support our family as we sought the best education and learning environment for our son,” they said.
“We thank her for her courage, grace and sacrifice. We grieve alongside all of the other teachers, families and administrators for how this horrific incident has impacted them, our community and the nation.”
The boy has been under hospital care since the shooting and is receiving “the treatment he needs”, his parents said.
“At the same time, we love our son and are asking that you please include him and our family in your prayers,” they added.
Steve Drew, the Newport News police chief, described the shooting as “intentional”.
A judge will determine what is next for the child.
Mr Ellenson said the parents are co-operating with police.
No charges have been brought against the mother but an investigation continues, Mr Drew said.
Investigators have nearly finished interviewing the children who were in the classroom, Mr Drew said, with police working with a psychologist to talk to them about what they saw.
“This is an unprecedented incident that we have had in our city,” the chief said.
“I have a young teacher who suffered a gunshot wound while teaching her classroom. By the grace of God, she’s still with us today.”