Mom whose 6-year-old son shot his teacher in front of first grade class gets 2 years in prison


Deja Taylor, Abigail Zwerner

Deja Taylor (Newport News PD), Abigail Zwerner (GoFundMe/screengrab)

Deja Taylor’s 6-year-old son shot his first-grade teacher in a Virginia classroom after sneaking his mother’s firearm into school and now, after pleading guilty to felony child neglect earlier this year, Taylor has been sentenced to 5 years in prison with 3 years suspended, or two years.

This, according to a statement from the Commonwealth District Attorney’s office obtained by Law&Crime on Friday, is in addition to the 21 months of active prison time Taylor has been serving for a previous conviction.

She was also sentenced to two years supervised probation which prosecutors said Friday must “include substance abuse treatment, parenting classes, and mental health treatment.”

Taylor, 25, was charged with felony child neglect and misdemeanor recklessness after she turned herself in this April and pleaded guilty. The boy was not charged in the matter. As a part of Taylor’s plea deal, commonwealth prosecutors agreed to drop a misdemeanor charge for reckless storage of a firearm.

Though she was facing up to five years, prosecutors only asked for six months, but the court found that the “circumstances of the shooting justified exceeding the state sentencing guidelines high-end recommendation of six months active jail time.”

The Richneck Elementary School teacher, Abigail Zwerner, 25, was shot in her classroom by Taylor’s son on Jan. 6. She was hit in her hand and chest, leading to broken bones and a punctured lung.

She sued the Newport News School Board as well as the school district’s superintendent and the principal of Richneck Elementary in the wake of Taylor’s plea this April.

Zwerner alleged administrators knew the child had a gun or access to one on the day she was shot and that he had a known “history of violence” to school administrators. That history included episodes where he “strangled and choked” a teacher and “inappropriately touched” a fellow student — a young girl — after she fell on the playground.

The boy “pulled her dress up,” the complaint states, and would not stop touching her until a teacher “reprimanded him.”

That incident was followed by others, including a time when the boy allegedly chased students with a belt, trying to whip them with it as he cursed at staff and faculty. Eventually, all of the outbursts prompted a behavioral-based learning plan: A parent would have to be present with the boy for all of his classes.

But on the day Zwerner was shot, there was no guardian or parent present. As Law&Crime reported in April, Zwerner said when the child was dropped off for school that morning, it was the first day he was allowed back after being suspended for calling Zwerner a “b—-” and throwing her cellphone to the ground, smashing it.

On the day of the shooting, Zwerner claims she reported hearing that the boy had threatened to beat up another student. Another teacher, a few hours before Zwerner was shot, allegedly told an administrator that she thought the boy might have a gun concealed in his pockets. Zwerner said the fellow teacher was brushed off and told that the boy’s pockets were too small to contain a gun.

A third teacher also allegedly went to administrators before Zwerner was shot and said she was warned by a student that the boy had a gun on him. That student was crying and allegedly told the teacher that the boy threatened to shoot him if he snitched about the weapon. Then, an hour before she was shot, Zwerner said a fourth teacher had tried and failed to get permission from administrators to search the boy for the hidden gun.

As for Taylor, she gave an interview to ABC News in May, roughly a month after she was charged with neglect. She said she believed her son felt “ignored” by Zwerner though she apologized for what had happened.

Her son was a “great kid,” but was hyperactive as a result of his ADHD and was unable to “sit still ever,” Taylor said.

But the child “actually really liked” Zwerner, Taylor told the outlet this spring.

When Zwerner’s phone was smashed, the boy’s mother said it was an accident.

“You know, most children, when they are trying to talk to you, and if you easily just brush them off, or you ask them to sit down, or you’re dealing with something else and you ask them to go and sit down, at 6 [years old] you — in your mind would believe that, ‘Somebody’s not listening to me,’ and you have a tantrum,” Taylor told ABC News. “He threw his arms up. He said, ‘Fine.’ And when he threw his arms up, he knocked her phone out of her hand on accident.”

Local Virginia news station WTOP reported ahead of Taylor’s sentencing on Friday that Zwerner’s lawsuit remains active.

She seeks $40 million from the school district. The school district, meanwhile, has sought to have the complaint dismissed without success.

No longer an employee of the district, Zwerner has stopped teaching due to what she says is a fear of children, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress spurred by the shooting. She also suffers from mobility issues that have made it hard for her to do simple tasks like tying her shoes.

On Friday in an email, Zwerner’s attorney Diana Toscano told Law&Crime ““There were multiple failures in accountability that led to Abby being shot and almost killed while teaching class — and our focus remains fixed on the school district’s inaction and failure to protect teachers and students.”

While there was initially a dispute over how the child got his mother’s 9 mm handgun, the boy would eventually tell investigators that he had climbed a set of drawers in his home to reach into the top of a dresser where the weapon was stored inside of Taylor’s handbag.

When first interviewed by investigators after the shooting, Taylor said she thought the gun — which police confirmed was legally purchased — had been secured with a “trigger lock.”

But no such device was ever found in her home.

As Law&Crime reported this August, as part of her plea agreement, it was stipulated that there was no gun safe or trigger lock found.

Taylor has been sentenced once already. She is serving a 21-month sentence after pleading guilty to using marijuana while owning a firearm. The child, according to News Nation, has been under the care of his great-grandfather, is receiving mental health care and has been transferred to a different school.

The shooting riled the school district. Senior leadership, including the superintendent, were ousted in a 5-1 vote by the Newport News Public Schools school board, CNN reported in January. Ebony Parker, then Richneck Elementary assistant principal, resigned.

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