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Mother of 6-year-old boy who shot Virginia teacher pleads guilty to child neglect

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – The mother of a 6-year-old student who police say deliberately opened fire on his first-grade teacher pleaded guilty in a Virginia court on Tuesday in connection with the January shooting.

Deja Taylor, 26, was charged with child neglect and faces up to six months in prison on a recommendation from the Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney. A judge could decide to go beyond the guidelines when sentencing her on Oct. 27.

As part of a plea deal, a separate charge — a felony of recklessly leaving a loaded firearm to endanger a child — was dropped, allowing Taylor to avoid a possible six-year prison sentence.

James Ellenson, a lawyer for the family, said Taylor continues to regret, though he believes no jail time will be the appropriate punishment.

“She feels very responsible, feels very bad,” Ellenson told reporters after the hearing.

“It’s just very emotional, the whole hearing,” he added. “It’s all very upsetting for everyone.”

The Newport News trial ended a facet of the case, which drew national attention to school safety and gun violence and led to the impeachment of the school’s superintendent and an assistant principal.

Abigail Zwerner, the teacher in the Newport News Richneck Elementary School shooting, was seriously injured but survived.

Police respond to a shooting that injured a teacher at Richneck Elementary (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot/Tribune News Service via Getty Images file)

Court documents unsealed this month contain new details about how the boy, identified only by his initials, acquired the 9mm semi-automatic pistol.

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On January 6, the morning of the shooting, Taylor thought the gun was in her purse with the trigger lock installed and on top of her bedroom dresser, according to a probable explanation of the cause. She added that the key for the lock is kept under her bedroom mattress.

The Newport News Police Department has previously said the gun was purchased legally, but is investigating whether it is properly secured, as the child’s family claims.

Ellenson has said Taylor believes the gun was placed on a high cabinet shelf with a trigger lock. But he acknowledged in May that there are still questions about how the child got the gun.

“People have talked to him about that, but I don’t know if an adult knows exactly how he got the gun,” Ellenson told ABC News.

As part of the investigation, Taylor also pleaded guilty in June to using marijuana while carrying a firearm. She is expected to be sentenced in October and could face 18 months to 24 months in prison.

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The narcotics were discovered during a court-ordered search in connection with the shooting, federal prosecutors said. Under United States law, it is illegal under United States law to use marijuana while possessing a firearm.

“A search of Taylor’s phone revealed numerous text messages that illustrated the pervasive extent of Taylor’s marijuana use,” prosecutors said. Meanwhile, “no safety deposit box was found in any of the residences, nor was a trigger lock or trigger lock key ever found.”

As part of a care plan at the school, the boy’s parents were required to be with him daily but were absent on the day of the shooting, officials said.

The unsealed court documents say police arrived at the classroom to find the gun and shell casings on the floor. School personnel rendered aid to Zwerner, who was shot in the left hand and upper chest.

Abigail Zwerner, a Virginia elementary school teacher, poses for a portrait at an undisclosed location in Virginia on March 20, 2023. (Carlos Bernate for NBC News)

Abigail Zwerner, a Virginia elementary school teacher, poses for a portrait at an undisclosed location in Virginia on March 20, 2023. (Carlos Bernate for NBC News)

Another teacher told police the children had returned from recess when she heard a gunshot as she walked by. Children fled the classroom, followed by an injured Zwerner. The other teacher went in and saw the 6-year-old standing by his desk, and she held him until police arrived, according to the documents.

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At Taylor’s hearing, prosecutors said her son reportedly was belligerent while being held, saying, “F— you. I shot my teacher,” before breaking free and punching a staff member.

He also said, “I got my mom’s gun last night. My mom had that,” and “I stole it because I had to shoot my teacher,” prosecutors said.

The child’s family has said he has an “acute disability” and has received the “treatment he needs” under a court-ordered temporary detention in a medical facility.

He is currently in the care of Taylor’s grandfather, who attended the plea hearing on Tuesday.

“The child is fine. He’s making progress,” said Ellenson.

A prosecutor said in March that the 6-year-old will not be charged, as a child this young would not have the competence to understand the legal system or adequately represent a lawyer.

Zwerner filed a $40 million lawsuit alleging that school administrators ignored multiple warnings from staff and students who believed the boy had a gun and was an imminent threat on the day of the shooting, and they did so knowing it was child “had a history of random behavior”. violence.”

The Newport News Public Schools said in a statement this month that they cannot comment on legal actions, but that they have “co-operated” with authorities and that they “remain committed to the well-being and care of all students and staff.” “

Kyle Stewart covered Newport News and Erik Ortiz from New York.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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