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An Unlikely Hero: A 6-Year-Old Allegedly Shot His Virginia Elementary School Teacher, Here’s How a Grandmother’s Quick ‘Instinct’ Helped Save the Teacher’s Life

A grandmother of two stepped up to help the teacher shot in a Virginia elementary school allegedly by one of her 6-year-old students. The matriarch said she arrived at the school to pick up her grandchildren early and had no idea she would be needed to help save someone’s life.

As the city of Newport News is trying to come to grips with the shooting of Abigail Zwerner, a 25-year-old first-grade teacher at Richneck Elementary School, other heroes are emerging. They include Lawanda Sample-Rusk, who, during a Stop the Violence rally in Newport News, recounted what happened from her perspective on the day of the shooting.

Grandmother helps save elementary school teacher
Lawanda Sample-Rusk quick decisions helped save the life of 25-year-old schoolteacher Abigail Zwerner (Screenshot WTKR News)

In an interview with WTKR, Sample-Rusk said she came to the school a little early to pick up her grandchildren — one in kindergarten and the other in first grade — right before the gunshots went off.  She was able to get to Zwerner after hearing her cry out, “I’m shot, I’m shot. Call 911.”

Police say she was shot by a 6-year-old who brought his mother’s firearm into the school on Friday, Jan. 6.

Officials noted the 9mm Taurus handgun was legally purchased by the child’s mother in York County, and it is currently unclear how the child got possession of the weapon. The child was able to sneak it into the school in his backpack. While only one round was fired, Newport News police chief Steve Drew said there were multiple rounds inside the gun’s magazine and the shooting was not accidental.

“What we know today is that she was providing instruction. He displayed a firearm, he pointed it and he fired one round,” Drew said, adding, “There was no physical struggle or fight. She was providing instruction to her class.”

Zwerner assumed a defensive position, placing her hand up when the child shot the gun.

Drew said at a press conference on Monday, Jan. 9, after Zwerner was shot through her hand and then in the chest, she continued to look out for others, helping to move 16 to 20 students out of the classroom to safety and was the last person to leave the class.

Sample-Rusk said she wasn’t award Zwerner had been shot in her chest.

“We only thought it was somewhere on her hand,” Sample-Rusk recounted. “But after looking further, she passed out on the floor, and then after looking further, it was another gunshot wound.”

The chief reported before the educator passed out that she “made sure every one of those kids were out of that room. She was the last one to leave … after suffering a gunshot wound, to make sure her students … were safe,” WAVY reported.

Now someone had to save Zwerner.

Joined by the school’s receptionist, the grandmother said the two “stayed pretty much” by Zwerner’s side and did their part to take care of the teacher before medical professionals arrived. She said she helped by putting “pressure on her wounds.”

“I didn’t know what to do. I’m not a med … I didn’t know what to do, just instinct,” Sample-Rusk said.

According to the grandmother, other children were crying and her grandson, who was in the classroom beside the one the teacher was shot in said “he heard the gunshots” go off.

Now she is worried about how the young boys, at their age, are processing the traumatic event.

“They don’t realize the height of this situation,” she said. “However, I’m still talking to them about what happened on Friday, and I will continue to talk to them until they really get a full understanding on the magnitude of how things could’ve went.”

As for the teacher, Zwerner is said to be in stable condition.

Authorities have met with the parents of the child who brought the gun to school. The mother has not been charged with any crimes connected to the shooting, however, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office will determine if there is a need to file charges based on the review of facts related to the incident.

The chief also said the child, who is currently in a medical facility receiving treatment, will have his school behavioral record included in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office investigation. An emergency custody order and temporary detention order were issued immediately after the incident.

Now, a judge will determine what are the next steps for the child with experts saying he is probably too young to be deemed competent to stand trial. According to the common law doctrine called the “infancy defense,” a child under 7 years of age cannot be prosecuted for a crime because, at such a young age, they are deemed incapable of forming criminal intent when committing a crime such as this, CTV reports.

The boy will also not be tried as an adult. In the state of Virginia, a minor must be at least 14 to face such a penalty. Also, at six years old, if found guilty of the shooting, he will be too young to be committed to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Some of the options the judge will have at his/her disposal are mandating anger management or counseling for the boy; allowing him to stay in the custody of his parents with certain provisions and conditions; making the parents participate in programs or taking the child out of the custody of the parents and fostering him with other relatives, a child welfare agency or some sort of local social service organization.

A shooting by a person so young on campus is extremely rare. According to David Riedman, the founder of the K-12 School Shooting Database, there have been less than 20 that have happened since 1970.

“This is the 17th shooting by someone under 10 years of age in a school. It’s rare for a 6-year-old to pull the trigger,” he said.

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