NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The mother of a 6-year-old who shot his teacher in Virginia pleaded guilty Tuesday to a charge of felony child neglect, seven months after her son used her handgun to critically wound the educator in a classroom full of students.
Prosecutors agreed to drop the misdemeanor charge of reckless storage of a firearm against Deja Taylor. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors said they will not seek seek a sentence that is longer than state sentencing guidelines, which call for six months in jail or prison.
Taylor was charged in April with felony child neglect and a misdemeanor count of recklessly storing of a firearm.
The January shooting shocked the nation and roiled this shipbuilding city near the Chesapeake Bay. The case against Taylor is one of three legal efforts seeking accountability, including the teacher’s $40 million lawsuit that accuses the school system of gross negligence.
Police said the first grader intentionally shot teacher Abby Zwerner as she sat at a reading table during a lesson. Zwerner, who was hit in the hand and chest, spent nearly two weeks in the hospital and has endured multiple surgeries.
Moments after the shooting, according to search warrants filed in the case, the child told a reading specialist who restrained him: “I shot that (expletive) dead,” and “I got my mom’s gun last night.”
Police said the student brought the gun to school in his backpack, which had images of sharks on it. But it remains unclear exactly how the 6-year-old got the gun.
Taylor told police she believed the gun was in her purse, secured with a trigger lock and on top of her bedroom dresser, according to search warrants. She said she kept the gunlock key under her bedroom mattress.
But agents with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said they never found a trigger lock after conducting searches, according to federal court documents.
In June, Taylor pleaded guilty in a separate but related federal case to using marijuana while possessing a firearm, which is illegal under U.S. law.
Taylor was seeking a plea agreement with local prosecutors in Newport News. Her attorney, James Ellenson, said in April that there were “mitigating circumstances,” including Taylor’s miscarriages and postpartum depression before the shooting.
It’s unclear if Taylor will plead guilty to the same counts she was charged with in April. Ellenson and the local prosecutor’s office did not respond to emails seeking comment.
Virginia’s law on felony child neglect is punishable by up to five years in prison. The misdemeanor charge regarding firearm storage carries up to one year in jail.
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.
Her son has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and was under a care plan that included a family member accompanying him to class every day, Ellenson said.
The week of the shooting was the first when a parent was not in class with him. The change was made because the boy had started medication and was meeting his goals academically, Taylor said.
“I just truly would like to apologize,” Taylor said on the show.
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