Her 6-year-old son shot his teacher. Now she is being sentenced for child neglect

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — The mother of a 6-year-old who shot his teacher in Virginia is expected to be sentenced Friday for felony child neglect, 10 months after her son used her handgun to critically wound the educator.

Deja Taylor faces up to five years behind bars. But as part of a plea deal, prosecutors will recommend a six-month sentence that falls within state guidelines. A judge will ultimately decide Taylor’s punishment.

Taylor’s sentencing offers the first measure of accountability for January’s classroom shooting, which revived a national dialogue about gun violence and roiled the military shipbuilding city of Newport News.

The bullet fired from Taylor’s gun struck first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner in the hand and chest. She spent nearly two weeks in the hospital and has endured multiple surgeries.

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Deja Taylor arrives at federal court, Monday, June 12, 2023, in Virginia Beach, Va. Prosecutors have asked a federal judge to revoke the bond for Taylor, the mother of a Virginia boy who shot and wounded his first-grade teacher, after she allegedly failed multiple drug tests while awaiting sentencing on two felony charges. Taylor pleaded guilty in June to having a gun while possessing marijuana and to lying on a federal background check form when she purchased the 9mm handgun her son used to shoot teacher Abigail Zwerner at the Richneck Elementary School in Newport News. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)Prosecutors ask a judge to revoke bond of mother of Virginia boy who shot his first-grade teacherFILE - Students return to Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 30, 2023. In the moments after a 6-year-old shot his teacher in a Virginia classroom this past January, the child made statements to a reading specialist like, “I shot that (expletive) dead,” according to police search warrants that were unsealed in July. (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)A 6-year-old said ‘I did it’ after shooting his teacher at Virginia school, warrants say

Taylor told police she believed her 9mm handgun was secured at home with a trigger lock. But authorities said they never found a lock during searches of the home.

Taylor’s son told authorities he climbed onto a drawer to reach the top of a dresser, where the weapon was in her purse. He concealed the gun in his backpack and then his pocket before shooting his teacher in front of the class, prosecutors said.

Zwerner rushed her other students into the hallway before collapsing in the school’s office.

Moments later 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.

Taylor was charged in April. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop a misdemeanor count of recklessly storing a firearm.

Taylor’s attorney, James Ellenson, said there were “ mitigating circumstances ” surrounding the incident, including her miscarriages and postpartum depression.

Ellenson said he plans to address depression and anxiety issues at the sentencing scheduled for 1 p.m.

Taylor told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in May she feels responsible and apologized to Zwerner.

“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 child neglect case against Taylor is one of three legal efforts to emerge from January’s shooting.

Taylor pleaded guilty separately to using marijuana while owning a gun, which is illegal under U.S. law, and will be sentenced in federal court next month. A plea deal in that case calls for 18 to 24 months imprisonment.

Meanwhile, Zwerner is suing Newport News Public Schools for $40 million, alleging gross negligence. The former teacher says administrators ignored multiple warnings the boy had a gun that day and had routinely dismissed ongoing concerns about his troubling behavior.

The school board is trying to block the lawsuit, arguing Zwerner’s injuries fall under Virginia’s workers compensation. The law provides up to 9 years or more in pay and lifetime medical care for injuries.

Lawyers for Zwerner and the school board are expected to argue Friday morning before a Newport News civil court judge about whether the lawsuit should proceed. Legal experts say Zwerner faces an uphill battle under Virginia’s uncommonly strict workers compensation law.