The first-grade teacher allegedly shot by a 6-year-old student in her Virginia classroom can’t forget the look on the student’s face as he aimed the gun at her and moments later “thought I had died,” she told NBC in her first interview since the January incident.
“I remember him pointing the gun at me, I remember the look on his face,” Abigail Zwerner told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie in an interview that aired Tuesday, more than two months after the January 6 shooting at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News left her hospitalized with gunshot wounds to the hand and chest. “I remember the gun going off.”
Zwerner knew, she said, she had been shot – the bullet went through her left hand before getting lodged in her chest, where fragments of it remain – but her first thought was of the safety of her other students.
“I was terrified,” she said. “In that moment, my initial reaction was, ‘Your kids need to get out of here,’ you know? ‘This is not a safe classroom anymore.’ … I just wanted to get my babies out of there.”
After getting her students to safety, her memory blurs. Zwerner didn’t know her lung had collapsed, she said, and she struggled to breathe.
“I remember I went to the office, and I just passed out,” she said. “I thought I had died.”
Zwerner was released from the hospital last month, a hospital spokesperson confirmed. The teacher has undergone four surgeries since the shooting, NBC reported, most recently on her hand, which Zwerner still cannot fully use.
The bullet “went through my left hand and ruptured the middle bone as well as the index finger and the thumb,” Zwerner told NBC, before striking her in the chest.
“It could have been fatal,” she said. “We believe that by the bullet going through my hand first that it most likely saved my life.”
The boy who allegedly shot Zwerner will not be criminally charged, Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn told CNN affiliate WTKR earlier this month.
The boy has an “acute disability” and was under a care plan that required a parent to attend school with him, though he was unaccompanied on the day of the shooting, his family has said in a statement. “We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the statement read.
Asked about her recovery, Zwerner said, “I’ve been doing OK. It’s been challenging.”
“Some days are not-so-good days where I can’t get up out of bed,” she told NBC. “Some days are better than others where I’m able to get out of bed and make it to my appointments. But from going through what I’ve gone through, I try to stay positive.”
The outpouring of support from her family and complete strangers is “hard to comprehend sometimes,” she said, but is deeply appreciated and “truly inspiring.”
“It helps me remember to take each day as they come,” she said, “that each day is special.”
‘Sometimes I have nightmares’
Two days before the shooting, the student allegedly “slammed” and broke Zwerner’s cell phone and cursed at guidance counselors, which led to him being suspended for one day, according to a legal notice sent to the Newport News School Board by Zwerner’s attorney that also informed officials about the teacher’s plan to sue school administrators.
After the one-day suspension, the student returned to Zwerner’s classroom and shot her, the document said.
Zwerner’s attorney, Diane Toscano, has alleged that concerned teachers and employees alerted administrators three times on the day of the shooting that the student had a gun and was threatening people. Toscano alleged the administrators “failed to act” despite having “knowledge of imminent danger.”
The school district has declined to comment on the possible lawsuit.
The fallout from the incident was swift, drawing harsh criticism from parents and leading the school board to vote to oust Superintendent George Parker III. Richneck Elementary’s assistant principal, Ebony Parker, resigned two weeks after the shooting and the principal, Briana Foster Newton, was reassigned to another school, though the district did not say where.
Pamela Branch, an attorney for Newton, has said the then-principal was not aware of the gun at the school.
“The fact of the matter is that those who were aware that the student may have had a gun on the premises that day did not report this to Mrs. Newton at all,” Branch said.
The school district told CNN previously that it could not comment on whether Newton or anyone else was made aware of a potential gun on campus because that is part of an ongoing investigation.
Speaking to NBC, Toscano said she wouldn’t weigh in on prosecutors’ decision not to charge the child.
“But I am following very closely the Newport News prosecutor to see what they do in this case and who they do charge, ultimately, if they do charge anybody.”
“My job is to hold those accountable that I can hold accountable,” Toscano said, “and I’m going to do that. Abby’s going to have to deal with this her entire life, both physically, emotionally.”
Indeed, Zwerner – who NBC reported could not get into details about what occurred prior to the shooting due to the potential litigation – is dealing not only with physical injuries, but emotional ones, too.
“I’m not sure when the shock will ever go away, because of just how surreal it was and you know, the vivid memories that I have of that day,” she said. “I think about it daily. Sometimes I have nightmares.”
The moment the child “pointed the gun directly at me” will stick with her forever, she said. “It’s changed me, it’s changed my life.”
CNN’s Brian Todd, Aileen Graef, Aya Elamroussi, Chris Boyette and Michelle Watson contributed to this report.