ATF, police search family homes of boy who shot Richneck teacher – Daily Press

NEWPORT NEWS — A federal agency and Newport News police this week searched two homes belonging to family of the 6-year-old boy accused of shooting his first grade teacher.

Thursday’s searches — led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — were the second round conducted at family member’s homes since the Jan. 6 shooting at Richneck Elementary School, said James Ellenson, an attorney for the boy’s mother. The first search was conducted by the Newport News Police Department under the auspices of a state warrant soon after the shooting.


Though a federal search warrant was issued — and executed — for one family member’s home in Newport News, he said, the mother consented to a search of an apartment where she’s now living. Roughly five law enforcement officers — ATF agents and Newport News detectives — spent more than an hour at that apartment Thursday as other officers waited outside, said Ellenson, who was present during that search.

The law enforcement action came the same day the boy’s family issued their first public comments since the shooting, with its attorney saying the gun the boy used had been secured with a trigger lock and kept on the high shelf of a closet.


Police say the first grader brought a handgun to school and suddenly shot and wounded his teacher, 25-year-old Abigail Zwerner, in the middle of class.

It was unclear what authorities were looking for, or what they recovered. The search warrant affidavit and return were not available in federal court Friday.

Ellenson said the mother consented to ATF downloading the entire contents of her cellphone. But he declined to say if investigators found the trigger lock the mother said she had on her handgun — and he would not say what agents seized “if anything.”

Despite the federal involvement, the Newport News Police Department says it is still heading up the investigation.

“We continue to be the lead,” police spokesperson Kelly King said Friday. “The ATF is involved as a task force just to check for any federal violations.”

Though the ATF often investigates federal weapons purchasing violations, police say the boy’s mother legally purchased the handgun used in the shooting — a Taurus 9mm — from a gun shop in York County.

Jason Kusheba, the ATF’s Resident-Agent-in-Charge of the Hampton Roads region, declined to say why the agency is looking into the case.

“We are certainly supporting the police department in their investigation,” he said. “I’m just not at liberty to discuss to what level we’re supporting them or what actions we’re taking.”


No charges have been filed against either the first grader or his parents, though experts say charges against the boy are highly unlikely because of his age. Police say any charges against the parents will be determined by the Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney.

The family said the boy has “an acute disability” and was under a specialized care plan at school, and Ellenson said they have no idea how he could have accessed the firearm or overcome the safety lock precaution. That’s in part because the family has not been in contact with the boy since the shooting.

Ellenson said Thursday’s searches scuttled family members’ plans to visit the boy at the hospital where he’s being treated. Though the mother was granted a brief — and supervised — conversation with her son the day of the shooting, he said she hasn’t been allowed to talk with him since.

“It was supposed to be a supervised visitation day,” Ellenson said. “But then all of this happened with the searches.”

He said the boy’s mother has been “fully cooperative” with investigators from the start, and he hopes that’s taken into account as the case proceeds.

“They feel as bad about this as anyone,” Ellenson said, adding that the family doesn’t want an “adversarial” relationship with investigators.


He said the mother willingly gave a statement to police after the shooting — and is willing to do so again, this time with him present.

Ellenson declined to reveal the nature of the boy’s disability, but said he was under an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, in which his mother or father often attended class with him. The week of the shooting was the first week they were not there with him, the family said.

Police responded to a shooting that injured a teacher at Richneck Elementary in Newport News on Jan. 6.

The shooting has garnered national attention given the shooter’s age. It’s fueled outrage among teachers, parents and students who say the Newport News school administration has downplayed ongoing student behavior problems in city schools.

A school employee was notified the boy potentially had brought a weapon to school and his book bag was searched, but no gun was found. Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said the boy had removed it from his bag at some point and had it “on his person.”

In the middle of class that afternoon, Drew said, the first grader pointed the gun at Zwerner, and fired a single round that struck her in her hand and chest. No motive has been provided, though Drew said the shooting was “not accidental.”

Zwerner was released from the hospital earlier this week and is getting outpatient treatment.


Under Virginia law, parents whose children have gained access to guns can be charged with felonies or misdemeanors depending on the facts of the case.

A parent “whose willful act or omission” in caring for their child “was so gross, wanton, and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life,” can be convicted of child neglect, the law says. That’s a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years behind bars.

Parents also can be charged with the misdemeanor charge of “allowing access to firearms by children.” That charge — punishable by up to a year in jail — can be brought when someone “recklessly leaves a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any child under the age of fourteen.”

Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749,

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