NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - The mother of the six-year-old boy who brought a gun to school and shot his teacher at a Virginia elementary school has pleaded guilty to felony child neglect.
Deja Nicole Taylor is now facing a maximum penalty of five years of incarceration after pleading to the Class 6 felony in a Newport News Circuit Court Tuesday. A related misdemeanor charge of reckless storage of a firearm was dropped as part of her plea.
The charges stem from the Jan. 6 shooting of 25-year-old Abigail Zwerner, a first-grade teacher at Richneck Elementary School. Zwerner was shot in the hand and chest by Taylor’s son and was rushed to Riverside Regional Medical Center with life-threatening injuries.
Recently released warrants state that a reading specialist at Richneck Elementary was walking by Zwerner’s classroom when she heard a gunshot before "several children ran out" of the classroom. After she saw Zwerner run out of the classroom, bleeding from her hand and upper torso, the specialist went into the room and saw the boy standing by his desk with the gun on the floor nearby, the warrants stated.
The specialist grabbed the child and held him in place until police arrived. While restraining the child, the specialist indicated that he "made statements like, ‘I shot that b**** dead.’ And ‘I did it.’ ‘I got my mom’s gun last night.’"
The gun was a 9 mm handgun belonging to Taylor. According to police, the child fired one shot from the gun and the spent shell casing was discovered near the firearm.
Investigators interviewed the child’s mother at police headquarters.
"Ms. Taylor stated she either stores her firearm in her purse with a trigger lock in place, or in a lock box," the warrants said. "Ms. Taylor believes on the morning of January 6, 2023, that her firearm was stored in her purse with the trigger lock in place and that her purse was on top of her bedroom dresser. Ms. Taylor stated she keeps the key for the gunlock under her bedroom mattress."
Taylor was indicted by a Newport News grand jury on April 10.
The court has ordered a pre-sentence report and the Commonwealth will not ask the Court to deviate from the sentencing guidelines. They note that her sentence and any terms of probation or other conditions will be decided at the sole discretion of the judge.
Taylor’s sentencing hearing has been scheduled for 1 p.m. on Oct. 27.
"We are thinking of Ms. Zwerner and all the students & faculty who experienced these events as our office continues its investigation," said Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn. "The safety of our schools is of paramount importance, and we will continue to support the victims as they work through the effects of this incident," said prosecutor Howard E. Gwynn.
The investigation into the shooting is ongoing and the Commonwealth Attorney’s office petitioned the Circuit Court to establish a special grand jury to probe "security failures at the school that may have contributed to this shooting."
"The safety and security of Newport News students is of utmost importance. The Special Grand Jury will investigate to determine whether additional charges against additional persons are justified by the facts and the law." Gwynn said. "If the special grand jury determines that additional persons are criminally responsible under the law, it can return additional indictments."
Meanwhile, Zwerner has filed a $40 million lawsuit against the school system, accusing them of gross negligence.
Students return to Richneck Elementary in Newport News on Jan. 30, 2023, for the first time since a 6-year-old shot teacher Abby Zwerner three weeks prior. (Billy Schuerman/Daily Press/Newport News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
The lawsuit claims that administrators failed to act on a series of warnings school employees gave prior to the shooting, beginning with Zwerner, who reportedly told an assistant principal that the boy "was in a violent mood" and had threatened to beat up a kindergartner and stared down a security officer in the lunchroom.
The suit claims other warnings came from two students, who told a staff member that the boy had a gun in his backpack. District officials say the boy’s bag was searched but reported that no weapon had been found. And Zwerner claims the assistant principal said the boy’s "pockets were too small to hold a handgun and did nothing."
Her lawsuit also alleges that over the course of several months, school officials continually dismissed concerns about the boy’s violent behavior.
The school board has pushed back, arguing in court documents that the boy was being evaluated and treated for possible ADHD — which causes inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, while state and federal laws call for keeping such children in the classroom when possible.
They did, however, decide to approve the installation of metal detectors in every school and reportedly began ordering them just a week after the shooting.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.