The Decatur Daily Democrat

Virginia teacher shot by 6-year-old: ‘I thought I had died’


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A Virginia teacher who was shot and wounded by her 6-year-old student said it has changed her life and she has vivid memories and nightmares about that day.

“I just will never forget the look on his face that he gave me while he pointed the gun directly at me,” first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner said during an exclusive interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie about the student. “It’s changed me. It’s changed my life.”

She said she’s still in shock and can’t make sense of it, in a portion of the interview that was aired Tuesday morning on “Today.”

“I’m not sure when the shock will ever go away because of just how surreal it was and the vivid memories I have of that day. I think about it daily. Sometimes I have nightmares,” she said.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the Jan. 6 shooting, Zwerner said in a portion of the interview that was aired Monday on “NBC Nightly News” that she’s had a challengin­g recovery. She’s had four surgeries and has some days when she “can’t get up out of bed.” Other days she can go about her day.

“For going through what I’ve gone through, I try to stay positive. You know, try to have a positive outlook on what’s happened and where my future’s heading,” Zwerner said

Zwerner was hospitaliz­ed for nearly two weeks after being shot in the chest and left hand as she taught her class at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia. The shooting rattled the military shipbuildi­ng community and sent shock waves around the country, with many wondering how a child so young could get access to a gun and shoot his teacher.

In the moments after she was shot, Zwerner said the other first-graders in her class were screaming.

She was terrified. But her concern centered on the children — “I just wanted to get my babies out of there.”

“I think they knew as well that they had to get out of there,” Zwerner said. “But they were extremely frightened and screaming.”

What happened next is still kind of a blur. Zwerner got the kids out of the classroom.

She knew she needed help. The fire alarm had gone off, heightenin­g her awareness that she’d been shot.

She had trouble breathing. Her vision failed.

“I went to the office and I just passed out,” Zwerner said. “I thought I had died.”

Zwerner didn’t know it at the time, but her lung had collapsed. Doctors said the bullet could have killed her. She likely survived because she had put up her hands.

“The initial gunshot went through my left hand and ruptured the middle bone as well as the index finger and the thumb,” she said. “The gunshot then went into my chest up here where it actually still remains. So I have the scar up here. And I still have some bullet fragments up here.”

At the hospital, Zwerner called her mother “Mommy” for the first time in quite a long time. She lives with her twin sister, who’s been taking care of her since she returned home, from cooking meals to taking her to doctors appointmen­ts.

The support from the outside world has been “overwhelmi­ng” and difficult to comprehend.

“We have tons of handmade cards, hand-written cards with people’s stories,” Zwerner said.

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