Virginia ex-assistant principal charged a year after 6-year-old shot his teacher

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(NEWPORT NEWS, VA.) -- The former assistant principal of Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, where a 6-year-old shot his teacher in January 2023, has been indicted for child abuse, according to court documents.

Ebony Parker is charged with eight counts of felony child abuse with disregard for life for the shooting, which left first grade teacher Abby Zwerner with life-threatening injuries.

Parker resigned from her position shortly after the shooting and has not made any public comments on it since.

Parker was indicted in March, but the documents were unsealed Tuesday. Parker was released from jail on bond Wednesday morning at 2:36 a.m., according to the Newport News Sheriff's Office.

Zwerner is suing Newport News Public Schools for $40 million, accusing administrators of negligence that allegedly allowed the shooting to take place.

Zwerner's lawyers pointed to the charges against Parker as another sign of the school district's failings.

"These charges are very serious and underscore the failure of the school district to act to prevent the tragic shooting of Abby Zwerner," attorneys Diane Toscano, Kevin Biniazan and Jeffrey Breit said in a statement. "The school board continues to deny their responsibility to Abby, and this indictment is just another brick in the wall of mounting failures and gross negligence in their case."

Parker is accused of disregarding at least three teachers' warnings that the 6-year-old might be carrying a gun, telling them he "has small pockets," suggesting he wouldn't be able to conceal a weapon, according to the lawsuit.

Just an hour before the shooting, a school counselor asked Parker to check if the boy had a gun, but she declined to do so, the lawsuit alleges.

In a report released Wednesday, the special grand jury investigating the case said there were eight bullets in the gun. The child allegedly tried to fire a second time, but the gun jammed.

Parker is charged with eight counts -- "one count for each of the eight bullets that endangered all the students in Ms. Abigal Zwerner's first grade classroom," the Newport News Commonwealth's Attorney's Office said in a press release Wednesday.

In a press conference Thursday, Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn thanked the grand jurors for their work on the report, which he called "incredibly thorough" and "brutally honest."

"They were ordinary citizens who took on an extraordinary task and did an amazing job," he said.

Gwynn said he hopes the grand jury report helps the victims in the case -- not just Zwerner, but all the children who were traumatized as well -- feel heard.

"We hear you," he said. "We feel your pain, we see your trauma, we pray for you and we pray for your children."

According to the report, questions remain about the whereabouts of the boy's disciplinary records after the shooting. There should have been two sets of physical records -- one in the main office, and one in Zwerner's classroom -- but police who executed a search warrant did not find the documents in either place, according to the report.

"Every other students file was in both locations," the report states. "The child's was the only file that was in neither location."

Police asked about the missing files, after which another school administrator returned the main office file, which had been in either her home or car, the report states.

The second file, which should have been in Zwerner's classroom, was never found, according to the report.

Though the grand jury has concluded, the investigation into the shooting continues, Gwynn said in the press conference Thursday. He did not say whether any other school officials would face charges.

Zwerner's attorneys said in a press conference conference Thursday that "serious questions need to be answered" about the missing documents, which they said they learned of from the grand jury report.

“If the citizen panel believes this may have been a coverup -- which is their words -- I have no reason to doubt them," Toscano said.

After the release of the grand jury report, Zwerner's lawyers released a new statement, saying, "The grand jury report reveals a systemic failure that led to the shooting of Abby Zwerner. Most shocking is the apparent cover up of disciplinary records before and after the shooting. We are grateful for the work of the special grand jury and the answers they have provided this community."

An attorney representing Parker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Richmond, Virginia, ABC affiliate WVEC was unable to reach Parker for comment at an address listed as her home in court records.

The 6-year-old's mother, Deja Taylor, was sentenced in November to 21 months in federal prison on firearm and drug charges. She was also sentenced in December to two years in state prison for child neglect associated with the shooting.

Zwerner said she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression and still has nightmares about the incident.

"One of the big moments for me that stays in my head, more so than some other moments, is the look on the student's face when he pulled out the firearm," Zwerner said. "It's a haunting look."

Thursday, April 11, 2024 at 1:48PM by Julia Reinstein, ABC News Permalink