School Official Charged With Child Neglect Over Virginia School Shooting

Image by MikeGunner from Pixabay

The mother of a six-year-old boy who brought her gun to a Virginia elementary school and shot his teacher has already been sentenced in both federal and state court, but now the former assistant principal of the elementary school is facing criminal charges of her own. 


Ebony Parker, who was the assistant principal at Richneck Elementary School when first grade teacher Abigail Zwerner was shot by her student last January, was indicted by a grand jury last month, but the charges weren't unsealed until this week. Parker is now facing eight counts of felony child abuse and disregard for life after she allegedly failed to act even after she was repeatedly warned that the student had a gun with him that day. 

In a notice of claim sent to the Newport News School District by her attorney, Zwerner alleged she visited Parker's office hours before the shooting to report that the boy "seemed more ‘off’ than usual and was in a violent mood." She reported that he had already threatened to beat up another child and "angrily stared down a security officer."

“Assistant Principal Parker should have called police, instead she did not follow proper protocol and chose to do absolutely nothing,” the claim says. 

Less than an hour later, another teacher told Parker that other students reported that the boy had a gun in his backpack, the claim alleges. Another teacher informed Parker of reports that the boy had the gun in his pocket, according to the claim.

"Assistant Principal Parker was made aware at the beginning of recess that Ms. Zwerner was afraid that the shooter had a gun in his pocket," Zwerner's attorney wrote. "And again nothing was done."

Parker stepped down as assistant principal after the shooting, and she's now facing the potential of several years behind bars. The felony child abuse charge is punishable by up to five years in prison, which would actually be a longer sentence than what the boy's mother received. Deja Taylor was handed a two-year sentence for child neglect in state court, while she was given a separate 21-month sentence in federal court for possessing a firearm as an unlawful user of drugs. 


If Parker really had been told by multiple teachers that the six-year-old had a handgun with him, either in his backpack or his pocket, and failed to make as much as a phone call to her superiors, I'd say the state has a pretty strong case

Last May, Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn asked for a special grand jury to probe whether any “actions or omissions” by school system employees also helped lead to the shooting.

It’s unclear if the grand jury is expected to charge anyone else.

It also wasn’t immediately clear how the grand jury determined that Parker should face eight counts of child neglect. There were about 18 students in Zwerner’s classroom that day, police said at a news conference shortly after the shooting, and many more in the school building.

Parker is one of the main defendants in Zwerner’s lawsuit against  Newport News Public Schools.

According to the teacher’s suit, Zwerner approached Parker after 11:15 a.m. to say that the 6-year-old was “in a violent mood” and “threatened to beat up a kindergartner during lunchtime.”

But Parker “had no response … refusing even to look up at (Zwerner) when she expressed her concerns,” the complaint asserts.

Later that morning, the lawsuit says, other students reported that the boy had a gun. After recess began at 12:30 p.m., the lawsuit contends, Zwerner told the reading specialist and another teacher that she had seen the 6-year-old taking something out of his backpack, and saw him going several times behind a rock climbing wall at recess.

The reading specialist searched the boy’s backpack and didn’t find a firearm. But when she went to Parker’s office to voice concern, the complaint says, the administrator dismissed the concern, saying the boy’s pockets were “too small” to carry a firearm.

When recess ended after 1 p.m., the complaint says, another student admitted to a teacher that the 6-year-old showed him the gun during recess — and threatened to harm him if he told anyone. That teacher called the school office, and told a Richneck music teacher what the other student said. But the complaint says Parker told the music teacher the boy’s bag “had already been searched.” 

Then — when a school guidance counselor sought permission to search the boy — Parker again denied the request, saying the boy’s mother would soon be at the school to pick him up.


Students are told all the time that if they see something alarming they should say something to an adult, but it's up to those adults to act on the information that's given to them. Granted, we're only hearing one side of the story at the moment, since Parker and her attorney aren't commenting on the charges, but it sounds like there was enough concern on the part of multiple staffers (not to mention students) to warrant some action by school officials, especially since the kid had engaged in violent behavior in the past, including choking another teacher. Just two days before Zwerner was shot the student was given a one-day suspension for breaking Zwerner's cell phone in class. 

What happened at Richneck Elementary wasn't the result of a lack of gun laws in Virginia. This kid should have been on Parker's radar, and given his past history the claims that he had a gun should have been taken seriously. If that had happened, I doubt that Zwerner would have been shot by her student. 

Even if the prosecutor's allegations are accurate Parker isn't the only adult that bears some culpability for the shooting, but her inaction still played a role in Zwerner's shooting. We don't need more gun laws, but we do need the people in charge of our schools to do their jobs when it comes to keeping our kids safe from harm.  

Join the conversation as a VIP Member