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Virginia teacher shot by first grader describes grueling recovery: ‘Some days I can’t get out of bed’

Abigail Zwerner, the Virginia teacher who was seriously wounded when police say a 6-year-old student intentionally shot her during class, says her recovery remains grueling.

Zwerner, speaking publicly for the first time in an interview to air Tuesday on the “TODAY” show, said she faces “obstacles and challenges” following multiple operations after being shot in her left hand and upper chest. Her occupational therapy appointments have also left her physically and mentally exhausted, she told “TODAY” co-anchor Savannah Guthrie.

“Some days are not so good days, where I can’t get up out of bed. Some days are better than others, where I’m able to get out of bed and make it to my appointments,” said Zwerner, 25, with her left hand bandaged after a recent fourth surgery to help a bone that was severely damaged.

Watch “NBC Nightly News” with Lester Holt tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. CT and “TODAY” on Tuesday at 7 a.m. ET.

The physical scars are healing, she said, including a wound on the side of her body where doctors inserted a chest tube after her lung collapsed.

Virginia elementary school teacher Abigail Zwerner in Virginia on Monday. Carlos Bernate for NBC News
Virginia elementary school teacher Abigail Zwerner poses for a portrait at an undisclosed location in Virginia on March 20, 2023.
Zwerner has had four operations on her left hand.Carlos Bernate for NBC News

“But, you know, for going through what I’ve gone through, I try to stay positive,” said Zwerner, a first-grade teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News. “You know, try to have a positive outlook on what’s happened and where my future’s heading.”

Zwerner was praised for her handling of the shooting, in which she escorted about 20 students to safety. She was hospitalized for nearly two weeks.

She said in an interview with NBC News on Monday that she still doesn’t have full function of her left hand, making the most simple tasks, such as making a fist, opening a water bottle and getting dressed, extremely difficult. She said her doctors are still uncertain about whether she will be able to use her hand like before.

“Physical therapy is not only physically exhausting but mentally exhausting as well. I’m supposed to be moving them once every hour, throughout the hour,” she said of her fingers, “just manipulating them to get that blood flowing and to get that movement back into the hand.”

The Jan. 6 shooting raised concerns about potential security failures at the kindergarten through fifth-grade school and in a school district rattled by other incidents of gun violence at local schools in the past 18 months.

Police tape hangs from a sign post outside Richneck Elementary School
Police tape hangs from a signpost outside Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., after the shooting.Jay Paul / Getty Images file

The law firm representing Zwerner is planning to file a lawsuit in two weeks related to the case.

“I can tell you there were failures on multiple levels in this case, and there were adults that were in positions of authority that could have prevented this tragedy from happening and did not,” lawyer Diane Toscano said.

Toscano has said the boy who shot Zwerner had behavioral issues and a pattern of troubling interactions with school staff and other students.

According to a notice of intent to sue provided to the Newport News school board on Jan. 24, the boy was given a one-day suspension for breaking Zwerner’s cellphone and returned the next day with a 9mm Taurus handgun that he used to shoot his teacher in the classroom while she sat at a reading table.

Three teachers had gone to the school administration about the boy’s behavior and the suspicion he had a gun on campus, Toscano said. A source close to the incident told NBC News that Zwerner had texted a loved one before she was wounded saying the boy was armed and that school officials were failing to act.

March 9, 202302:16

Following the shooting, the family of the 6-year-old boy said in a statement that the weapon was “secured” in the home and that they have “always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children.”

The family also said the boy has an acute disability and, following the shooting, was receiving the “treatment he needs” under a court-ordered temporary detention at a medical facility.

Newport News police conducted interviews with school staff and students before turning over the case to the Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney in February for possible criminal charges.

Police said the child’s mother legally purchased the gun he used, but haven’t specified how he obtained it or if it was safely secured as the family has claimed.

The local prosecutor, Howard Gwynn, told NBC News this month that while a 6-year-old child could theoretically be criminally charged under Virginia law, he would not seek charges against the student.

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