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Los Angeles Times

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


A Virginia teacher who was shot and wounded in January by a 6-year-old student said the shooting had changed her life and that she was still having 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 of the student in an exclusive interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. “It’s changed me. It’s changed my life.”

In a portion of the interview that was aired Tuesday morning on “Today,” she said she was still in shock and could not make sense of the shooting.

“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,” she said. “I think about it daily. Sometimes I have nightmares.”

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 has had a challenging recovery. She has had four surgeries and days when she “can’t get up out of bed.” Other times, she can go about her day, she said.

“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. The shooting rattled the military shipbuilding community and sent shock waves through the country , with many asking how a child so young could get ahold of 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.”

She didn’t know it at the time, but her lung had collapsed. Doctors said the bullet could have killed her. Putting up her hands may have saved her life.

“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 ... where it actually still remains. So I have the scar up here. And I still have some bullet fragments.”

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

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

“We have tons of handmade cards, handwritten cards with people’s stories,” she said.

Zwerner believes she survived for a reason. She said that if she could talk to her first-graders, she’d tell each one she loves them.

“I’m very grateful that they’re all alive,” she said. “And they’re safe, and they’re healthy. And I just miss them dearly.”

Zwerner told Guthrie her bullet wounds had scarred over. But she said they’re still a reminder that, “Hey, this happened to you. This

is what your body’s been through.”

Zwerner intends to sue the school district, according to a legal notice filed by her attorney. Newport News Public Schools did not immediately respond to an email from the Associated Press on Tuesday seeking comment.

Earlier this month, top Newport News prosecutor Howard Gwynn said his office would not charge the boy with a crime because he wouldn’t understand the legal system and what a charge means. Gwynn has yet to decide whether any adults will be charged.

The boy was using his mother’s gun, which police said had been legally purchased. A lawyer for the boy’s family has said the firearm was secured on a closet shelf and had a lock on it.

In Tuesday’s interview, Guthrie asked Zwerner what justice would mean for her.

“That’s a tough question to answer,” the teacher said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times .

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