Mom pleads guilty after 6-year-old son used her gun to shoot teacher

Posted at 11:47 AM, August 15, 2023

By BEN FINLEY and DENISE LAVOIE Associated Press

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — The mother of a 6-year-old who shot his teacher in Virginia pleaded guilty Tuesday to a charge of felony child neglect, seven months after her son used her handgun to critically wound the educator in a classroom full of students.

Booking photo of Deja Taylor

Deja Taylor is charged with felony child neglect and misdemeanor recklessly leaving a loaded firearm to endanger a child. (Richmond Police/WTKR)

Prosecutors agreed to drop the misdemeanor charge of reckless storage of a firearm against Deja Taylor. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors said they will not seek seek a sentence that is longer than state sentencing guidelines, which call for six months in jail or prison. A judge will have full discretion and will ultimately decide the length of Taylor’s sentence. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 27.

Taylor was charged in April with felony child neglect and a misdemeanor count of recklessly storing of a firearm.

The January shooting shocked the nation and roiled this shipbuilding city near the Chesapeake Bay. The case against Taylor is one of three legal efforts seeking accountability, including the teacher’s $40 million lawsuit that accuses the school system of gross negligence.

Abby Zwerner in classroom

In this undated photo provided by her family and lawyers, Abigail Zwerner, a first-grade teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, is shown inside her classroom. An attorney says Zwerner, who was shot by a 6-year-old student during class plans to sue the school district. Diane Toscano, a lawyer for Zwerner, said Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, that on the day of the shooting, concerned teachers and employees warned administrators three times that the boy had a gun on him and was threatening other students, “but the administration could not be bothered.” (Family of Abigail Zwerner via AP)

Police said the first grader intentionally shot teacher Abby Zwerner as she sat at a reading table during a lesson. Zwerner, who was hit in the hand and chest, spent nearly two weeks in the hospital and has endured multiple surgeries.

Moments after the shooting, according to search warrants filed in the case, the child told a reading specialist who restrained him: “I shot that (expletive) dead,” and “I got my mom’s gun last night.”

Police said the student brought the gun to school in his backpack, which had images of sharks on it, but it was unclear exactly how the 6-year-old got the gun.

During Taylor’s plea hearing Tuesday, a prosecutor said the boy told authorities he got the gun by climbing onto a drawer to reach the top of a dresser, where the gun was stored in his mother’s purse. Those details were contained in a “stipulation of facts,” a list of facts that both sides agree are true.

Taylor told police she believed the gun was in her purse, secured with a trigger lock, according to search warrants. She said she kept the gunlock key under her bedroom mattress. But agents with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they never found a trigger lock after conducting searches, according to federal court documents.

Taylor did not speak during the plea hearing except to answer questions from the judge about whether she understood the proceeding. She spoke softly and was asked by the judge to raise her voice.

In June, Taylor pleaded guilty in a separate but related federal case to using marijuana while possessing a firearm, which is illegal under U.S. law.

Taylor’s attorney, James Ellenson, said in April that there were “mitigating circumstances,” including her miscarriages and postpartum depression before the shooting.

Taylor told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in May that she feels responsible and apologized to Zwerner.

students and parents walking away from the camera into Richneck Elementary School

FILE – Students return to Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Va., Jan. 30, 2023. Authorities in the Virginia city where a 6-year-old shot and wounded his teacher will not seek charges against the child, the local prosecutor told NBC News on Wednesday, March 8. (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP, File)

“That is my son, so I am, as a parent, obviously willing to take responsibility for him because he can’t take responsibility for himself,” Taylor said.

Her son has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and was under a care plan that included a family member accompanying him to class every day, Ellenson said.

The week of the shooting was the first when a parent was not in class with him. The change was made because the boy had started medication and was meeting his goals academically, Taylor said.

“I just truly would like to apologize,” Taylor said on the show.

Ellenson said in court Tuesday that the boy is now in the care of his great-grandfather.