A Virginia mother was booked after turning herself in Thursday in a felony child neglect and misdemeanor firearm case connected to her 6-year-old son’s shooting of a first-grade teacher in January.
Deja Taylor, 25, is accused of recklessly leaving a loaded firearm accessible to her son, who has an “acute disability,” before that gun was used to shoot Richneck Elementary School teacher Abigail Zwerner, also 25, in the hand and chest, seriously injuring the educator and giving rise to a lawsuit.
The boy will not be charged in the case, Newport News Commonwealth Attorney Howard Gwynn has said, noting that the “prospect that a 6-year-old can stand trial is problematic.” Instead, the prosecutor more than hinted that an adult person or persons might be in danger of criminal jeopardy. That is now Taylor’s reality.
“On April 13, 2023, Ms. Deja Taylor turned herself in at the Newport News City Jail for outstanding warrants in reference to the January 6, 2023 shooting that occurred at Richneck Elementary,” the Newport News Police Department said Thursday. “Ms. Taylor has been charged with felony child neglect and misdemeanor recklessly leaving a loaded firearm to endanger a child.”
As Law&Crime reported Monday, prosecutors announced that Taylor was indicted by a grand jury “after a thorough investigation by Newport News Police Department and this Office.”
“Every criminal case is unique in its facts, and these facts support these charges, but our investigation into the shooting continues,” Commonwealth Attorney Gwynn said, adding: “The Commonwealth’s Attorney has also petitioned the Circuit Court to empanel a Special Grand Jury to continue the investigation into any security issues that may have contributed to this shooting” and “whether others are criminally responsible.”
Zwerner has alleged in a $40 million lawsuit that the school repeatedly ignored warnings the boy — who allegedly had a history of violence, including apparently choking a teacher until she couldn’t breathe — was armed on the day of the shooting.
“The child who shot Ms. Zwerner had a history of violence with both students and teachers,” a press release announcing the lawsuit said. “Ultimately the school administrators allowed the child to return in the fall of 2022, but he was quickly placed on a modified schedule after threatening other classmates at recess.”
In a TODAY interview from March, Zwerner revealed how much she continues to struggle on a daily basis.
“Some days are not so good days, where I can’t get up out of bed. Some days are better than others, where I’m able to get out of bed and make it to my appointments,” she said.
“But, you know, for going through what I’ve gone through, I try to stay positive,” Zwerner added. “You know, try to have a positive outlook on what’s happened and where my future’s heading.”
After the shooting, there was a shake-up in the school hierarchy, with the exits of top leadership and the superintendent.
“There were failures in accountability at multiple levels that led to Abby being shot and almost killed,” Zwerner attorney Diane Toscano said upon learning the news of Taylor’s indictment. “Today’s announcement addresses but one of those failures. It has been three months of investigation and still so many unanswered questions remain. Our lawsuit makes clear that we believe the school division violated state law, and we are pursuing this in civil court. We will not allow school leaders to escape accountability for their role in this tragedy.”
In January, attorney James Ellenson said in a statement on behalf of the 6-year-old’s family that they have “always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children.”
“The firearm our son accessed was secured,” the statement said. “While our son’s privacy interests are important, transparency in this matter is a valid community interest. Our son suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day.”
Taylor’s arrest represents at least the second high-profile instance in recent years of a parent facing accusations of criminal culpability after their minor son opened fire at school.
Marisa Sarnoff contributed to this report.
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Deja Taylor mugshot released after son shoots Abby Zwerner
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