A Virginia teacher who was shot and seriously wounded by a six-year-old pupil has filed a lawsuit seeking $40m (£32.4m) in damages from school officials.
Abby Zwerner accuses them of gross negligence for allegedly ignoring multiple warnings on the day of the shooting that the boy had a gun and was in a “violent mood”.
The 25-year-old teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, was shot in the hand and chest on January 6 as she sat at a reading table in her classroom.
She spent nearly two weeks in hospital and has had four operations since the shooting.
The shooting rattled the military shipbuilding community and sent shockwaves around America, with many wondering how a child so young could gain access to a gun and use it to shoot his teacher.
The lawsuit names the Newport News School Board and several school district officials as defendants.
Michelle Price, a spokesperson for the school board, Lisa Surles-Law, chair of the school board, and other board members did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the lawsuit.
No-one, including the boy, has been charged over the shooting. The superintendent was fired by the school board after the shooting, while the assistant principal resigned.
The principal was reassigned to another job within the school district. The board also voted to install metal detectors in every school in the district, beginning with Richneck, and to purchase clear backpacks for all students.
In the lawsuit, Ms Zwerner’s lawyers say all of the defendants knew the boy “had a history of random violence” at school and at home, including an episode the year before, when he “strangled and choked” his kindergarten teacher.
“All defendants knew that (the pupil) attacked students and teachers alike, and his motivation to injure was directed toward anyone in his path, both in and out of school, and was not limited to teachers while at the school,” the lawsuit states.
School officials removed the boy from Richneck and sent him to another school for the remainder of the year, but allowed him to return to Richneck for first grade in the fall of 2022, the lawsuit states.
He was placed on a modified schedule “because he was chasing students around the playground with a belt in an effort to whip them with it”, and was cursing staff and teachers, it says.
Under the modified schedule, one of the boy’s parents was required to accompany him during the school day.
“Teachers’ concerns with (the boy’s) behaviour (were) regularly brought to the attention of Richneck Elementary School administration, and the concerns were always dismissed,” the lawsuit states.
Often after he was taken to the office, “he would return to class shortly thereafter with some type of reward, such as a piece of candy”, according to the lawsuit.
The boy’s parents did not agree for him to be put in special education classes where he would be with other students with behavioural issues, the lawsuit states.
Ms Zwerner suffered permanent bodily injuries, physical pain, mental anguish, lost earnings and other damages, the lawsuit states. It seeks $40m in compensatory damages.
Last month, Newport News prosecutor Howard Gwynn said his office will not criminally charge the boy because he would not understand the legal system and what a charge means. Mr Gwynn has yet to decide if any adults will be charged.
The boy used his mother’s gun, which police said was purchased legally. A lawyer for the boy’s family has said that the firearm was secured on a cupboard shelf and had a lock on it.