A Virginia mother has been booked after she turned herself in on Thursday felony counts of child neglect and a firearm misdemeanor related to the January shooting of an elementary school teacher by her 6-year-old son.
Deja Taylor, 25, is accused of recklessly leaving a loaded firearm available to her son, who has an “acute disability,” before that gun was used to seriously kill Richneck Elementary School teacher Abigail Zwerner, also 25 to be shot in the hand and chest, injury to the educator and cause for complaint.
The boy will not be charged in the case, Newport News Commonwealth attorney Howard Gwynn said, noting that the “prospect of a 6-year-old being able to stand trial is problematic”. Instead, the prosecutor more than hinted that an adult person or persons could be at risk of criminal prosecution. This is Taylor’s reality now.
“On April 13, 2023, Ms. Deja Taylor presented herself to the Newport News City Jail on outstanding warrants relating to the January 6, 2023 shooting that occurred at Richneck Elementary School,” the Newport News Police Department said Thursday. “MS. Taylor has been charged with child neglect and misdemeanor for recklessly leaving a loaded firearm to endanger a child.”
Prosecutors said Monday, Law&Crime reported, that Taylor was indicted by a grand jury “following a thorough investigation by the Newport News Police Department and that office.”
“Each criminal case is unique in its facts, and those facts support these allegations, but our investigation into the shooting continues,” Commonwealth Attorney Gwynn said, adding, “The Commonwealth Attorney has also requested the Circuit Court, a special grand jury.” to continue investigating any safety issues that may have contributed to this shooting” and “whether others are criminally responsible.”
Zwerner has claimed in a $40million lawsuit that the school repeatedly ignored warnings that the boy – who allegedly had a history of violence, including choking a teacher until she could not breathe – on the day of the shooting was armed.
“The child who shot Ms. Zwerner had a history of violence with both students and teachers,” said a press release announcing the lawsuit. “Ultimately, the school administration allowed the child to return in the fall of 2022, but he was quickly placed on a changed schedule after threatening other classmates at recess.”
In a March TODAY interview, Zwerner revealed how much she continues to struggle on a daily basis.
“Some days are not so good days that I can’t get out of bed. Some days are better than others when I can get out of bed and get to my appointments,” she said.
“But you know, for what I’ve been through, I’m trying to stay positive,” Zwerner added. “You know, try to be positive about what happened and where my future is going.”
After the shooting, there was a shake-up in the school hierarchy with the departure of top management and the superintendent.
“There were multiple levels of accountability failures that resulted in Abby being shot and nearly killed,” Zwerner attorney Diane Toscano said upon hearing the news of Taylor’s indictment. “Today’s announcement addresses just one of those flaws. It has been three months of investigation and still so many unanswered questions remain. Our lawsuit makes it clear that we believe the school department violated state law, and we are pursuing it in civil court. We will not allow school leaders to evade responsibility 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 advocated responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children”.
“The firearm accessed by our son has been seized,” the statement said. “While our son’s privacy interests are important, transparency on this matter is a legitimate community interest. Our son has an acute disability and was at school under a care plan that required his mother or father to attend school with him and accompany him to class every day.”
Taylor’s arrest is at least the second high-profile case in recent years in which a parent has been charged with criminal guilt after his underage son opened fire at school.
Marisa Sarnoff contributed to this report.
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