Mother of 6-Year-Old Who Shot Teacher Faces Sentencing Amid Broader Gun Violence Concerns

The mother of a 6-year-old boy who shot his first-grade teacher in Virginia faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to felony child neglect. Deja Taylor’s sentencing, originally scheduled for Friday, has been delayed until December 15, at Newport News Circuit Court.

In January, Taylor’s son used her 9mm handgun to critically wound his teacher, Abby Zwerner, striking her in the hand and chest. Zwerner spent nearly two weeks in hospital and has since undergone multiple surgeries.

Taylor had told police she believed the handgun was secured at home with a trigger lock, but authorities stated no lock was found during searches of her home. The child told authorities he climbed onto a drawer to reach the top of a dresser, where the weapon was in his mother’s purse. He then concealed the gun in his backpack and his pocket before shooting Zwerner in front of the class.

Moments after the shooting, the 6-year-old told a reading specialist who restrained him, “I shot that (expletive) dead” and “I got my mom’s gun last night,” according to search warrants.

As part of the plea deal, prosecutors have agreed to recommend a six-month sentence for Taylor, which falls within state guidelines. However, a judge will ultimately decide Taylor’s punishment.

FILE – Police look on as students return to Richneck Elementary School following a school shooting in which a 6-year-old boy shot his teacher, Jan. 30, 2023, in Newport News, Va. Deja Taylor, the mother of the 6-year-old who shot his teacher at the Virginia elementary school, is expected to be sentenced Friday, Oct. 27, for felony child neglect, 10 months after her son used her handgun to critically wound the educator. (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP, File)
The Associated Press

Taylor’s attorney, James Ellenson, cited “mitigating circumstances” surrounding the incident, including his client’s miscarriages and postpartum depression. Taylor also expressed her sense of responsibility during an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” in May.

“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.

The incident has had wide-reaching implications, sparking a renewed national dialogue about gun violence and affecting the community of Newport News, a military shipbuilding city.

In addition to the child neglect charge, Taylor pleaded guilty separately to using marijuana while owning a gun, which is illegal under U.S. law. She will be sentenced in federal court next month, with a plea deal calling for 18 to 24 months imprisonment.

Meanwhile, Zwerner is pursuing a $40 million lawsuit against Newport News Public Schools, alleging gross negligence. She claims administrators ignored multiple warnings that the boy had a gun that day and had routinely dismissed ongoing concerns about his troubling behavior.

The school board is attempting to block the lawsuit, arguing Zwerner’s injuries fall under Virginia’s workers compensation law, which provides up to nine years or more in pay and lifetime medical care for injuries.

Legal experts say Zwerner faces an uphill battle under Virginia’s strict workers compensation law. The legal proceedings around this case continue to unfold, with lawyers for Zwerner and the school board expected to argue before a Newport News civil court judge about whether the lawsuit should proceed.

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