Is Princess Anne safe?

Fin Worrall , Staff Writer

When Richneck Elementary School’s Abigail Zwerner walked into her classroom of kindergarteners on January 6, she believed that it was a normal day. It wasn’t.

One of her six-year-old students would shoot her.

Earlier that day, at 11:30, Zwerner told assistant principal Ebony Parker that the child was in a “violent mood,” and that he had threatened to beat up a security guard. This child had a history. A year earlier, he choked a member of the staff, was reported to curse at teachers, and tried to whip other students with a belt.

Later, the child told other students that he had a gun, a teacher reported this to Parker, who responded with an uninterested shrug.

Afterwards, he showed them the gun, told them that he was going to shoot the teacher and threatened that he would shoot them too if they said anything. Another member of the staff told Parker about the gun, same indifferent dismissal. “Over the course of a few hours, three different times, three times, school administration was warned by concerned teachers and employees that the boy had a gun,” said Diane Toscano, an attorney on behalf of Zwerner.

At 1:45, while sitting at his reading table, the student shot once, hitting Zwerner in her outstretched hand, the bullet ricocheting into her upper chest. She was able to get all the kids out of the room before anything else happened.

But it wasn’t an isolated event of negligence. After the shooting, the parents of a student at the school said that their daughter had been bullied throughout the entire duration of the school year. But what did the administration do? Nothing.

The fallout that would ensue: a new superintendent, principal, vice principal, the metal detectors, and clear backpacks would alter much of the school and the Newport News school division.

Now, Virginia Beach parents are calling for the same thing. An online petition on the site “” titled “Protect Our Children VBPS Strong NOW!” has reached over 350 signatures. The concerned parent, identified as Doris by 13 New Now, said that we need to enhance security measures for VBCPS schools, “it’s time for metal detectors.”
We are not sure that metal detectors are the best solution, said Ken Trump, a school security expert. He said that metal detectors may look good from the outside, “providing an emotional security blanket, but they do not make a significant difference.”

Even so, this petition raises the question, with America stricken with hundreds of shootings every year, is it time for change? Is the student and teacher body safe walking through the school doors every day?

Since the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School, there have been a total of 366 school shootings, resulting in 191 deaths and 414 injuries, putting over 338,000 students in danger of being another victim of gun violence.

School shootings may be rare, but they create immense tragedy and far-reaching effects. The deaths of the victims, their heartbroken families, their traumatized friends, the people in the building, the political fallout, the pointed fingers, and the communities torn apart. Hundreds of schools around the country have similar stories.

What are the people in charge doing to stop Princess Anne from being the next Sandy Hook, Columbine, or Uvlade? To protect the school, does the school division need to take even greater steps toward protecting students and staff?

Does the school system need to continue to further add to its security measures? VBCPS administration has added more and more defenses, cameras, and security officers within the last few years, especially after prevalent shootings like the 2019 Municipal Center shooting and the Uvalde shooting. But, experts and activists say that other levels may be necessary, such as the addition of programs to educate students and teachers on how to create a more safe school environment, to be able to recognize the warning signs of a school shooter.

75 percent of school shooters were victims of bullying. 80 percent of the time, at least one other person had knowledge of the shooter’s plan. 93 percent of shooters planned it out beforehand. The warning signs are there, but people are not trained to be able to recognize these, report them, and prevent shootings.

It does not seem definite in what VBCPS needs to do. But as headlines continue to blare with catastrophe after catastrophe, the fear and anxiety in students and concerned parents will continue to tick up. Erin, a freshman, said that “We see all the school shootings on the news and it’s scary to think it could happen at PA or anywhere in VB.”

As students continue to have to practice internal lockdown drills, have a stab of fear when a door slams. As they monitor a peer or a teacher, as they plan for what they would do in an attack. The question will continue to be asked.

Is it time for change?