Mom of 6-year-old accused of shooting teacher pleads guilty to felony child neglect

Deja Taylor's son is accused in the shooting at Richneck Elementary School.

August 15, 2023, 4:57 PM

The mother of a 6-year-old boy accused of shooting his first-grade teacher during class in Newport News, Virginia, in January has pleaded guilty to a felony charge in connection with the shooting.

Deja Taylor was indicted in April for felony child neglect and a misdemeanor charge of endangering a child by reckless storage of a firearm.

She pleaded guilty to the felony child neglect charge in court on Tuesday. The charge of endangering a child by reckless storage of a firearm was dropped.

Deja Taylor has been charged in relation to her 6-year-old son shooting his teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va.
Newport News Police Department

Her sentencing has been scheduled for Oct. 27, according to WVEC.

Taylor's attorney, James Ellenson, told reporters he believes no jail time would be appropriate given mitigating factors the defense plans to present at sentencing.

"There were other persons who should be held accountable and while that does not diminish her role, that, along with her mental state following several miscarriages, as well as her being a victim of domestic abuse are mitigating factors which we hope the court will take into account at sentencing," Ellenson said in a statement to ABC News.

Taylor was initially set to face a bench trial in Newport News Circuit Court on Tuesday, though the appearance was changed last month to a plea hearing.

Her son is accused of shooting his teacher, Abby Zwerner, at Richneck Elementary School. Zwerner sustained a gunshot wound through her hand and into her chest on Jan. 6, when the student brought a gun into her classroom and intentionally shot and wounded her, police have said.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News in May, Taylor said she was willing to take responsibility for the incident, and that her son's actions can be linked to his ADHD diagnosis.

"I am, as a parent, obviously willing to take responsibility for him because he can't take responsibility" for himself, she said.

Taylor described her son as a "great kid," but "very energetic" due to his condition. "He's off the wall. Doesn't sit still, ever," she said.

Taylor is also facing federal charges stemming from the shooting. She pleaded guilty in June to using marijuana while in possession of a firearm, in this case, the 9 mm semi-automatic handgun police say was used in the shooting. Federal prosecutors claimed Taylor "knowingly made a false and fictitious written statement" when she legally purchased the gun and claimed she did not use marijuana. She is set to be sentenced on Oct. 18.

In January, Taylor told police she normally stores her firearm in her purse with a trigger lock in place, or in a lockbox. However, federal prosecutors said that a lockbox wasn't found, nor was a key or trigger lock.

Students return to Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 30, 2023, for the first time since a 6-year-old shot teacher Abby Zwerner three weeks prior.
Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

State prosecutors have said they wouldn't charge the boy, citing concerns of his competency given his age.

Ellenson recently told ABC News that the child has had "extreme emotional issues for some time" but is "doing better every day thanks to therapy, his grandparents' support and the amazing professionals working with him on his recovery."

Ahead of Tuesday's court appearance, Zwerner's attorney, Diane Toscano, told ABC News, “As the criminal probe widens, our focus remains on justice for Abby and holding the school system accountable for failing to act on warnings the boy had a gun.”

Zwerner filed a $40 million lawsuit in April against the Newport News School District and Richneck Elementary officials claiming they ignored multiple warnings about the student's behavior, as well as concerns that he may have a gun. Lawyers for the school board have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming her injuries are covered under the state's worker's compensation law for which she was approved to receive benefits, but which she turned down.

ABC News' Mark Guarino contributed to this report.