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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia teacher who authorities say was shot dead by a 6-year-old student is known as a hardworking educator, dedicated to her students and enthusiastic about the profession that reigns in his family, according to fellow teachers and city officials.

John Eley III, a former Newport News school board member, identified the first grade teacher as 25-year-old Abby Zwerner. Zwerner was shot dead Friday at Richneck Elementary School, authorities said.

Shortly after the shooting, police said Zwerner had life-threatening injuries, but she improved and was listed in stable condition at a local hospital.

Eley and other city officials met with teachers and the school principal on Friday and later drove to the hospital, where they met members of Zwerner’s family, including several aunts who are also teachers. .

“The family was made up of all the educators and said they were thrilled to do the job,” said Eley, who was recently elected to the Newport News City Council.

“Guardians and other teachers talked about how good a team player she is, she’s a team player, she loves her kids, she’s just a good teacher in every way.”

Cindy Hurst said her 8-year-old granddaughter was still shaken by the shooting. She was in Zwerner’s class last year and told her grandmother she was an excellent teacher.

“I just hate that it happened,” Hurst told the Virginian-Pilot. “But life as we know it may never be the same again – I don’t know.”

Zwerner attended James Madison University, graduating in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary liberal studies and minors in elementary education and music. She graduated from JMU College of Education in 2020 with a Masters in Education.

JMU President Jonathan Alger offered a message of support to Zwerner, his family, friends and fellow teachers, students and their families.

“JMU stands ready to support those affected by this incident now and in the weeks to come,” Alger tweeted on Saturday.

Police respond to a shooting at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia on Friday. Police say a 6-year-old student shot and injured a school teacher during an altercation in a first grade classroom.

Billy Schuerman/The Virginia Pilot via AP

Police Chief Steve Drew said the boy shot and injured the teacher with a handgun in a first grade classroom. He was then taken into custody. Drew said the shooting was not accidental and was part of an altercation. No student was injured.

Police declined to describe what led to the altercation or any further details about what happened in the classroom, citing the ongoing investigation. They also declined to say how the boy gained access to the gun or who owns the gun.

Virginia law does not allow 6-year-olds to be tried as adults. Also, a 6-year-old child is too young to be in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice if convicted.

A juvenile judge, however, would have the power to revoke custody of a parent and place a child in the care of the Department of Social Services.

Mayor Phillip Jones would not say where the boy is being held.

“We’re making sure he has all the services he needs right now,” Jones said on Saturday.

Experts who study gun violence said the shooting represents an extremely rare case of a young child bringing a gun to school and injuring a teacher.

“It’s very rare and it’s not something the legal system is really designed or positioned to deal with,” said researcher David Riedman, founder of a database that tracks US school shootings dating from 1970.

He said on Saturday he was aware of only three other shootings caused by 6-year-old students during the period he studied. These include the fatal shooting of a classmate in 2000 in Michigan and shootings that injured other students in 2011 in Texas and 2021 in Mississippi.

Riedman said he is only aware of one other case of a student younger than the one who caused the shootings at a school, in which a 5-year-old student brought a gun to a school in Tennessee. in 2013 and accidentally unloaded it. No one was injured in this case.

Newport News is a city of about 185,000 in southeastern Virginia, known for its shipyard, which builds the nation’s aircraft carriers and other United States Navy vessels.

Richneck has about 550 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, according to the Virginia Department of Education website. Jones said there would be no classes at the school on Monday and Tuesday.

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