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Mother of 6-year-old who shot teacher will plead guilty to federal felony charges in deal with prosecutors

Published May 21, 2023 By admin
CNN — 

The mother of a 6-year-old boy who brought a gun to school and shot his first-grade teacher in January in Newport News, Virginia, will plead guilty to new federal felony charges as part of a deal with prosecutors, her attorney said Monday.

Deja Taylor, the 26-year-old mother, was charged with unlawful use of a controlled substance while possessing a firearm and with making a false statement while purchasing the firearm, specifically a semiautomatic handgun, the federal complaint states.

Her attorney, James Ellenson, said Taylor’s guilty plea was an “agreed procedure which eliminated the need for the government to take the case to a grand jury.”

Taylor will enter her guilty plea later this week or next week, according to Ellenson’s statement. He added that he planned to submit “mitigating evidence” and thanked the US attorney’s office for “its good faith participation in discussions.” In addition to the federal charges, Taylor has been indicted on state charges of felony child neglect and one count of recklessly leaving a firearm to endanger a child.

The federal charges come about five months after the shooting at Richneck Elementary School in which the 6-year-old shot his teacher, 25-year-old Abigail Zwerner. She suffered gunshot wounds to her hand and chest but survived. The gun was purchased by Taylor and kept on the top shelf of her bedroom closet, secured by a trigger lock, Ellenson told CNN in January. The child brought the gun to school in his backpack, police said.

The child will not be criminally charged, Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn has said.

Prosecutors allege when Taylor purchased the handgun, she “knowingly made a false and fictitious statement” to a licensed firearms dealer, according to the federal complaint filed Monday. She allegedly stated through federal forms that she was not an unlawful user of any controlled substances, “when in fact… she was an unlawful user of marijuana,” the complaint states.

Virginia legalized simple possession of marijuana in 2021, but it remains illegal federally. If Taylor is convicted of the federal charges, she must forfeit any ammunition or firearm used in the violation, the US Attorney’s office said in court documents.

Taylor has no criminal record and has cooperated since the shooting occurred, Ellenson said in an earlier statement. She turned herself in to police in April after the state charges and was released after posting $5,000 bond. “As always, first and foremost is the continued health and wellbeing of all persons involved in the incident at Richneck Elementary School, to include both the teacher and Deja’s son,” the statement said.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney said the office has asked the Circuit Court to assemble a special grand jury to investigate “any security issues that may have contributed to the shooting.” Zwerner filed a $40 million lawsuit in April alleging school administrators and the school board were aware of the student’s “history of random violence” and did not act proactively amid concerns over a firearm in the boy’s possession the day of the shooting.

The boy has an “acute disability” and was under a care plan that required a parent to attend school with him, though he was unaccompanied on the day of the shooting, the family has said in a statement. “We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the statement read.


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