July 24th, 2024

Mother of 6-year-old who shot teacher in Virginia gets 2 years in prison for child neglect

By Ben Finley And Denise Lavoie, The Associated Press on December 15, 2023.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) – The mother of a 6-year-old who shot his teacher in Virginia was sentenced Friday to two years in prison for felony child neglect, nearly a year after her son used her gun to critically wound the educator.

Friday’s sentencing was the second time Deja Taylor was held to account for the classroom shooting, which stunned the nation and shook the military shipbuilding city of Newport News.

The state sentence she received Friday from Circuit Court Judge Christopher Papile was stiffer than what is called for in state sentencing guidelines and harsher than a joint sentencing recommendation of six months prosecutors and Taylor’s lawyers had agreed to in a plea deal.

Taylor was sentenced in November to 21 months in federal prison for using marijuana while owning a gun, which is illegal under U.S. law. The combination of her state and federal sentences amounts to a total punishment of nearly four years behind bars.

Taylor’s son told authorities he got his mother’s 9mm handgun by climbing onto a drawer to reach the top of a dresser, where the firearm was in his mom’s purse. He concealed the weapon in his backpack and then his pocket before shooting his teacher, Abby Zwerner, in front of her first-grade class.

Taylor initially told investigators she had secured her gun with a trigger lock, but investigators said they never found one.

Taylor pleaded guilty earlier this year to the felony neglect charge. As part of that plea deal, local prosecutors agreed to drop a misdemeanor count of recklessly storing a firearm.

Taylor also pleaded guilty to the federal marijuana-weapons charge. Investigators had found nearly an ounce of marijuana in Taylor’s bedroom following the shooting.

James Ellenson, one of Taylor’s attorneys, said earlier this year there were ” mitigating circumstances “ surrounding the situation, including Taylor’s miscarriages and postpartum depression. She also has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a condition sharing symptoms with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to court documents.

Taylor told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in May that 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.

During her sentencing in federal court last month, one of Taylor’s attorneys read aloud a brief statement in which Taylor said she would feel remorse “for the rest of my life.”

The bullet fired from Taylor’s gun struck Zwerner in the left hand and her upper left chest, breaking bones and puncturing a lung. The teacher rushed her other students into the hallway before collapsing in the school’s office.

The 6-year-old who shot Zwerner 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.

Zwerner told the judge during Taylor’s federal sentencing that she remembers losing consciousness while medics worked on her.

“I was not sure whether it would be my final moment on earth,” Zwerner said.

Zwerner spent nearly two weeks in the hospital and has endured five surgeries to restore motion to her left hand. She struggles to put on clothes or tie shoes.

She is suing Newport News Public Schools for $40 million, alleging administrators ignored multiple warnings the boy had a gun. She told the federal judge she has lost a sense of herself and suffered “massive financial loss.”

Zwerner no longer works for the school system and is no longer teaching. She said she loves children but is now scared to work with them.

She attends therapy and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, while also suffering from depression and anxiety.

“I contend daily with deep emotional scars,” Zwerner said.

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