'I thought I had died': Teacher shot by 6-year-old student speaks out

For the first time, first grade teacher Abigail Zwerner is speaking out about the day she was shot by her 6-year-old student at Richneck Elementary.
A school bus outside Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia.
Posted at 12:59 PM, Mar 21, 2023

Abigail Zwerner is speaking out for the first time after being shot by her 6-year-old student at Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Virginia. 

"I just will never forget the look on his face that he gave me while he pointed the gun at me. It's changed me — it's changed my life," the first-grade teacher said in an exclusive interview on NBC's TODAY show

Zwerner detailed the school day on January 6, where she said she started to "hear things" that made her feel uneasy, and her fear only grew as the day progressed. 

That was the day Zwerner's student brought a handgun to school and shot her in her classroom. 

The gunshot traveled first through her left hand and ruptured the middle bone as well as her index finger and thumb, before migrating to her chest, where bullet fragments remain. 

"In that moment my initial reaction was, 'your kids need to get out of here. This is not a safe classroom anymore and you need to go find help for yourself,'" Zwerner told NBC. 

She said her students were extremely frightened and screaming. 

"I just wanted to get my babies out of there," she said. 

Zwerner acted quickly to get her students to safety before getting help for herself. Her voice grew raspy and breathing became difficult. What she didn't know at the time was that her lung had collapsed. She then passed out. 

"I thought I had died," Zwerner said. 

Zwerner said had her hand not been up to take the initial hit from the bullet, it is believed the incident would've been fatal. 

The teacher is frustrated with the Richneck administration's failure to act after having been alerted three times that a student had a gun at school. She plans to file a lawsuit in two weeks.

Signs outside Richneck Elementary School, where a 6-year-old shot his teacher.

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Zwerner continues to heal, and recently had surgery on her hand. She said the physical injuries, as well as the internal trauma, continue to haunt her through nightmares and reliving the incident daily. 

"Some days are not so good days where I can't get up out of bed. Some days are better than others, where I'm able to get out of bed and make it to my appointments," said the teacher.

Zwerner said she tries to stay positive and maintain a positive outlook on her future. She is motivated by the outpouring of support, messages and cards she's received, for which she is very grateful.