Mother of 6-Year-Old Boy Who Shot Virginia Teacher Pleads Guilty to Child Neglect

Deja Taylor, the mother of the Virginia 6-year-old boy who used her gun to shoot his teacher at school, pleaded guilty Tuesday (Aug. 15) to a state charge of felony child neglect.

via: NBC News

Taylor, 26, was charged with felony child neglect and could serve up to six months in state prison based on a recommendation by the Newport News commonwealth’s attorney. A judge could decide to go beyond the guidance when he sentences her on Oct. 27.

As part of a plea deal, a separate charge — a misdemeanor count of recklessly leaving a loaded firearm so as to endanger a child — was dropped, allowing Taylor to avoid a potential six-year prison sentence.

James Ellenson, a lawyer for the family, said Taylor remains remorseful, although he believes no prison time would be the appropriate sentence.

“She feels very responsible, feels very bad,” Ellenson told reporters after the hearing.

“It’s just very emotional, the whole hearing,” he added. “It’s all just very upsetting to everybody.”

The court hearing in Newport News ended one facet of the case, which drew national attention to school safety and gun violence and led to the ouster of the school’s superintendent and an assistant principal.

Abigail Zwerner, the teacher in the shooting at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, was seriously wounded but survived.

Court documents unsealed this month included new details in how the boy, who is identified only by his initials, obtained the 9 mm semi-automatic handgun.

On Jan. 6, the morning of the shooting, Taylor believed the gun was in her purse with the trigger lock installed and left on top of her bedroom dresser, according to a probable cause statement. She added that the key for the lock is kept under her bedroom mattress.

Newport News police have said that the gun was legally purchased but that they were investigating whether it was properly secured as the child’s family has claimed.

Ellenson has said Taylor believes the gun was placed on a high closet shelf with a trigger lock. But he acknowledged in May that questions still remain about how the child accessed the weapon.

“People have talked to him about that, but I don’t know that any adult knows exactly how he got the gun,” Ellenson told ABC News.

As part of the investigation, Taylor also pleaded guilty in federal court in June to the use of marijuana while possessing a firearm. She is expected to be sentenced in October and could receive 18 months to 24 months in prison.

The narcotics were discovered during a court-ordered search of the home in connection with the shooting, federal prosecutors said. Under U.S. law, it is illegal to use marijuana while possessing a firearm.

“A search of Taylor’s phone revealed numerous text messages illustrating the pervasive scope of Taylor’s marijuana use,” according to prosecutors. Meanwhile, “a lockbox was not found in either of the residences, nor was a trigger lock or key to a trigger lock ever found.”

As part of a care plan at the school, the boy’s parents were supposed to be with him daily, but were absent on the day of the shooting, officials said.

The unsealed court documents say police arrived at the classroom to find the gun and cartridge casings lying on the floor. School staff members were rendering aid to Zwerner, who was shot in her left hand and upper chest.

Another teacher told police that the children had returned from recess when she heard a gunshot as she walked by. Children fled from the classroom followed by a wounded Zwerner. The other teacher went in and saw the 6-year-old standing by his desk, and she held him until police arrived, according to the documents.

At Taylor’s hearing, prosecutors said that her son was reportedly combative as he was being detained, saying, “F— you. I shot my teacher,” before breaking free and punching a staffer.

He also said, “I got my mom’s gun last night. My mom had that,” and “I stole it because I needed to shoot my teacher,” according to prosecutors.

The child’s family has said that he has an “acute disability” and that he had received the “treatment he needs” under a court-ordered temporary detention at a medical facility.

He is under the care of Taylor’s grandfather, who attended Tuesday’s plea hearing.

“The child is doing fine. He’s progressing,” Ellenson said.

A prosecutor said in March that the 6-year-old would not face charges given that a child that young wouldn’t have the competency to understand the legal system or adequately assist an attorney.

Zwerner has filed a $40 million lawsuit alleging that school administrators shrugged off multiple warnings from staff and students who believed the boy had a gun and posed an imminent threat on the day of the shooting, and did so knowing the child “had a history of random violence.”

The Newport News Public Schools said in a statement this month that it cannot comment on legal actions, but that it has “worked cooperatively” with authorities and it “remains committed to ensuring the well-being and care of all students and staff.”

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