▶ Watch Video: 6-year-old shot teacher at Virginia school, police say

Police in Newport News, Virginia, provided new details Monday about the shooting of an elementary school teacher by a 6-year-old student. 

The shooting, which police previously described as not accidental, took place at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News on Friday, Jan. 6. The teacher, identified as 25-year-old Abigail Zwerner, was teaching a lesson when the child drew the weapon, Police Chief Steve Drew said a a news conference.

The teacher “took a defensive position” and held up her hand, Drew said; the bullet passed through her hand and entered her chest. She remains hospitalized and is reported to be in stable condition. 

That shot was the only one fired, Drew said. He said there had been no physical fight between teacher and student. The child was using a 9 millimeter Taurus firearm, which Drew described as a handgun. 

Police said the gun was legally purchased by the child’s mother. It’s still not clear how the child was able to take the weapon to school with him. Drew said the firearm was on the child’s body, not pulled from his backpack, at the time of the shooting. Drew declined to provide information about how the gun was secured in the home. 

“I wish we never had to (ask) … how does a 6-year-old know how to use a firearm? I don’t know that I can give you an adequate answer,” Drew said. “It’s unprecedented. I don’t know how to answer that question.” 

Students and police gather outside of Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, after a shooting Friday.

Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP

After Zwerner was shot, she was able to evacuate the children from her classroom. Drew recounted watching security footage showing the “17 to 20” children in the room spilling into the hallway and going into a neighboring classroom. Zwerner was the last person to leave the classroom, he said, calling her “a hero.” 

“It was heroic the way the students were taken care of,” Drew said.  

An unidentified female school official entered the classroom and restrained the child, police said, while Zwerner sought help in administrative offices. Police were dispatched to the school at 2 p.m., and the first officers arrived on scene four minutes later. The rest of the school was systemically evacuated and parents were reunified with their children. Students who had been in the classroom where the shooting took place were brought to the school library, where they met with detectives and mental health professionals. 

Richneck Elementary School has cancelled classes for the week, school superintendent Dr. George Parker III said, adding that the school and district will learn from the incident to install more safeguards against gun violence. 

“In no way do I believe we were fully prepared for a 6-year-old to bring a weapon to school and shoot his teacher,” Parker said. 

The child is being treated at a medical facility, Drew said. An emergency custody order has been obtained, and a judge will need to determine “next steps” within 96 hours from the time of the shooting.