When news broke that a 6-year-old in Virginia shot teacher Abigail Zwerner in her classroom on Jan. 6, the nation collectively gasped. Some teachers had a different reaction. Jessi Casler says she felt extremely angry for Zwerner and all her fellow educators — but not shocked.
Casler, a fourth grade teacher in Colorado, tells TODAY.com the shooting of Zwerner, 25, by a first grade student is "absolutely not surprising."
"Every teacher in America has either been in a situation that could have ended this way or is currently in one now," says Casler, 40, whose social posts about the incident have gone viral in recent weeks.
At a news conference on Jan. 25, Abigail Zwerner's lawyer said three different teachers went to the school administration about the boy’s behavior and said they believed he had a gun on campus prior to the incident.
"Abby's lawyer confirmed what teachers around the country already knew — that this horrific event could have been prevented had administrators taken the threats seriously," Casler says. "The teachers at Richneck Elementary did absolutely everything they could to alert administrators of the imminent danger, and they ignored every single one."
A representative from both Richneck Elementary and Newport News Public Schools tell TODAY.com via e-mail that they are unable to comment on the matter.
"The school division’s investigation is ongoing," Michelle Price, director of public information and community involvement, wrote.
Outraged, Casler says she expressed her feelings on social media, telling TODAY.com she was "frustrated" and didn't want Zwerner's story to "get lost in the shuffle."
Casler says she doesn’t believe this is the last time an act of violence by a student will happen inside a classroom.
“Last week, it was Abby Zwerner. Next week, it could be any one of us,” Casler tells TODAY.com. “We all have similar stories of extreme behaviors escalating to dangerous levels while administrators ignore red flags. Behaviors like this build slowly over time and are fanned by the flames of apathy and fear. I believe that this will continue happening until there are major shifts in society and systemic changes in our public schools.”
In a now-viral Instagram post titled "This is teaching in America," Casler shared 10 traumatic stories that she says came from fellow educators.
The teacher stories shared by Casler, which have not been independently verified by TODAY.com, underscored two major themes: classroom violence, and lack of resources to create change.
Nearly 400 current and former educators weighed in on Casler's post in the comment section.
While some expressed their rage and heartbreak, others shared their own stories.
"A student, who I knew had access to guns, stared me down and said, 'I know where you live.' I had two infant children, so this was just horrifying," one teacher named Kristy commented on the post. "My school said they could do nothing because his speech was protected and was not enough of a threat. I went to the police. The police said that the threat was not direct or specific enough. He would have had to say something like, 'Mrs. Moore, I know where you live and I am going to shoot you.' I lived in fear, looking out the window, checking doors, etc. Luckily, my husband got a new job and we moved away."
Kristy, the seventh grade English teacher who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her privacy, confirms to TODAY.com that the incident occurred in 2017.
"I was advised to go (to) the police station, because the school couldn't do anything about it," she tells TODAY.com.
Casler calls the strong reaction to her post "a strange combination of relief and devastation."
"Relief because this secret that educators have held close to our chests for so long — the terrifying truth of what it truly means to teach in America today — had finally been revealed to the world, but in that relief, came full-on devastation," she says, referencing the "hundreds" of stories that poured in from teachers across the nation.
The Denver-based teacher tells TODAY.com that while she doesn't have answers, she does know that people choose teaching because it's a passion.
"We love your children as if they’re our own, and we’re doing our absolute best every single day, even through the toughest circumstances," she says. "So, trust us. If we tell you a behavior is disruptive, trust us. Support us. If we see a red flag, believe us. We don’t have time to create problems that don’t exist — we’re already drowning in paperwork and working late nights and weekends."