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Former Rickneck assistant principal charged with felony child abuse

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — More than a year after Abby Zwerner was shot by her 6-year-old student, the school’s former assistant principal Ebony Parker, 39, has been charged with eight counts of felony child abuse by a Special Grand Jury.

The charges were filed in Newport News Circuit Court.

Court documents reveal Parker, being responsible for the care of the student at the school, committed a willful act or omission in the care of said students in violation of Virginia Code: 18.2-371.1(B). She is facing eight total felony counts, each of which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

According to the document, the Commonwealth recommends a secured bond of $4,000 and the surrender of her passport, if one exists. Parker had posted bond as of Wednesday afternoon.

Criminal charges against school officials following a school shooting are quite rare, experts say. 

Parker and other school officials already face a $40 million negligence lawsuit from the teacher who was shot, Abby Zwerner. She accuses Parker and others of ignoring multiple warnings the boy had a gun and was in a “violent mood” the day of the shooting.

The lawsuit also alleges that Parker “had no response, refusing even to look up” when Zwerner expressed her concerns.

A guidance counselor also asked Parker for permission to search the boy, but Parker forbade him, “and stated that John Doe’s mother would be arriving soon to pick him up,” the lawsuit stated.

Ebony Parker (Courtesy: Newport News Sheriff’s Department)

Less than two weeks ago, Zwerner’s attorneys confirmed that that $40 million lawsuit is going to trial.

Attorney Emily Mapp Brannon represents several Richneck Elementary School families.

“These charges suggest that there is sufficient evidence that the students of Richneck were placed in peril by the very hands entrusted to protect them,” said Brannon. “As a representative of seven families, I remain optimistic that our criminal justice system will provide answers to the Richneck community.  For the first time in over a year, the families may find comfort in knowing that the administration is being held accountable.”

Each of the lawsuits is seeking $3 million in damages, as well as other punitive damages.

Zwerner’s attorneys allege Parker was warned three times before the shooting that the 6-year-old student had a gun, but she failed to call 911 or put the school on lockdown. There was also no security guard on duty that day.

“These charges are very serious and underscore the failure of the school district to act to prevent the tragic shooting of Abby Zwerner,” according to a statement from Zwerner’s legal team — attorneys Diane Toscano, Kevin Biniazan and Jeffrey Breit. “The school board continues to deny their responsibility to Abby, and this indictment is just another brick in the wall of mounting failures and gross negligence in their case.”

Around 2 p.m. on Jan. 6, 2023, while Zwerner was reading to the class, her student shot her. Zwerner was released from the hospital a couple of weeks after the shooting.

Newport News police have said the student who shot Zwerner retrieved his mother’s handgun from atop a dresser at home and brought the weapon to school concealed in a backpack.

Parker resigned from her position as assistant principal 19 days after Zwerner was shot.

She and the lawsuit’s other defendants, which include a former superintendent and the Newport News school board, have tried to block Zwerner’s lawsuit.

They’ve argued that Zwerner’s injuries fall under Virginia’s workers’ compensation law. Their arguments have been unsuccessful so far in blocking the litigation. A trial date for Zwerner’s lawsuit is slated for January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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