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Richneck families file lawsuits against Newport News school leaders for psychological, physical damage

Richneck Elementary students returned to school this year to signs of support and several new security measures following last year's classroom shooting. (Photo by Laura Philion)

  This story was updated at 10:35 a.m. on Jan. 9, 2024.

Six families with students at Richneck Elementary School filed suit against the Newport News School Board and former district and school leaders for the psychological and physical damage experienced by the students following a shooting last year.

Six lawsuits focus on children who witnessed a first-grade classmate shoot teacher Abby Zwerner in their classroom. Those filings ask for $3 million.

A seventh suit was filed by Lowanda Sample-Rusk, the grandmother of one of the six children. She was in the school’s office and helped control Zwerner’s bleeding when she came in looking for help.

“The aftermath of the shooting was complete and utter chaos within the school grounds until law enforcement arrived,” according to Sample-Rusk’s suit. 

“Each of the students, teachers and guests within the school during this time feared for their lives.”

The lawsuits name former Superintendent George Parker, former Richneck principal Briana Foster Newton and former assistant principal Ebony Parker. The families allege school staff dismissed reports of a gun at the school and that there was ample time and opportunity to search the shooter and prevent the incident.

Attorneys for the students wrote the children have dealt with post-traumatic stress and a host of psychological and physical effects in the last year, including heart palpitations, insomnia and digestive issues.

In a separate Circuit Court lawsuit proceeding, Zwerner is also suing the school district for $40 million. She alleges she would never have been injured if school administrators had listened to warnings about the shooter’s behavior.

A judge ruled two months ago that her lawsuit can proceed outside worker’s compensation boundaries, which Zwerner’s lawyers have said would unfairly limit the damages she might be awarded.

Newport News Public Schools are a member of the Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, which holds WHRO’s FCC license.

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