NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – A Virginia teacher who was shot and wounded by her 6-year-old student said it changed her life and she has vivid memories and nightmares about that day.
“I’ll never forget the look on his face he gave me as 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 changed me. It has changed my life.”
She said she’s still in shock and can’t make sense of it, in a segment of the interview that aired Tuesday morning on “Vandaag.”
“I’m not sure when the shock will ever go away because of 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 January 6 shooting, Zwerner said in a portion of the interview that aired Monday on “NBC Nightly News” that she has had a difficult recovery. She has had four surgeries and sometimes has days when she “can’t get out of bed.” Other days she can go about her day.
“For going through what I went through, I try to stay positive. You know, try to have a positive view of what happened and where my future is going,” Zwerner said.
Zwerner was hospitalized for nearly two weeks after being shot in the chest and left hand while teaching her class at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia. The shooting shocked the military shipbuilding community and sent shockwaves across the country, with many wondering how a child so young could access 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 kids – “I just wanted to get my babies out of there.”
“I think they also knew they had to get out of there,” Zwerner said. “But they were extremely scared and screaming.”
What happened next is still a bit of a blur. Zwerner took the children out of the classroom.
She knew she needed help. The fire alarm had gone off, which made her realize she had been shot.
She was having trouble breathing. Her sight failed.
“I went to the office and passed out,” Zwerner said. “I thought I was dead.”
Zwerner didn’t know it at the time, but her lung had collapsed. Doctors said the bullet could have killed her. She probably survived because she raised her hands.
“The first shot went through my left hand and tore the middle bone as well as the index finger and thumb,” she said. “The shot then went into my chest here, where it actually still is. So I have the scar here. And I have some bullet fragments here.’
In the hospital, Zwerner called her mother “mama” for the first time in a long time. She lives with her twin sister, who has been taking care of her since she came home, from cooking meals to taking her to doctor’s appointments.
The support from the outside world was “overwhelming” and difficult to understand.
“We have tons of handmade cards, handwritten cards with people’s stories,” Zwerner said.
Zwerner believes she survived for a reason. If she could talk to her first graders, she’d tell everyone she loves them.
“I am very grateful that they are all alive,” she said. And they are safe and sound. And I just really miss them.”
Zwerner told Guthrie that the gunshot wounds left scars. But she said they’re still a reminder that, “Hey, this happened to you.” This is what your body has been through.”
Zwerner plans to sue the 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 asking for comment.
Earlier this month, Newport News prosecutor Howard Gwynn said his office would not criminally charge the boy because he wouldn’t understand the legal system and the meaning of a charge. Gwynn has yet to decide whether to charge adults.
The boy had fired his mother’s gun, which police said was purchased legally. A lawyer for the boy’s family has said the firearm was secured to a shelf in a closet and had a lock on it.
During Tuesday’s interview, Guthrie asked Zwerner what justice would mean to her.
“That’s a tough question to answer,” the teacher said.