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Mother of 6-year-old boy who shot teacher is arrested in Virginia

The mother was being charged with felony child neglect and misdemeanor endangering a child by reckless storage of a firearm, authorities have announced.
Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 30, 2023.
Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 30.Billy Schuerman / The Virginian-Pilot via Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The mother of a 6-year-old boy who shot and wounded his teacher in Virginia has been formally arrested on charges of child neglect and failing to secure her handgun, police announced Thursday.

The Newport News Police Department released a booking photo of the woman, 25, and a brief statement that said she turned herself in at the local jail. She was released from custody after posting a $5,000 bond and has a status hearing scheduled Friday in Newport News Circuit Court, said James Ellenson, her attorney.

“She is nervous and scared because she has never been charged before, but holding up well,” Ellenson wrote in an email Thursday.

Authorities had announced Monday that Deja Taylor was being charged with felony child neglect and a misdemeanor charge of endangering a child by reckless storage of a firearm.

Her arrest comes more than three months after police say her son shot and wounded first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner as she sat at a reading table in her classroom. Police said the child used his mother’s gun, which was legally purchased.

Zwerner filed a $40 million lawsuit against the school system last week, accusing school officials of gross negligence and of ignoring multiple warnings from teachers and others that the boy had taken a gun to school that day.

The city prosecutor’s office said Tuesday that it is investigating whether the “actions or omissions” of any school employees could lead to criminal charges.

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

The January shooting at Richneck Elementary has rattled Newport News, a shipbuilding city of about 185,000 people near the Chesapeake Bay.

Police Chief Steve Drew has repeatedly characterized the shooting as “intentional.” He said there was no warning and no struggle before the child pointed the gun at Zwerner and fired one round, striking her in the hand and chest.

Zwerner, 25, hustled her students out of the classroom before being rushed to the hospital, where she stayed for nearly two weeks.

The felony neglect charge filed against the boy’s mother is punishable by up to five years in prison. The misdemeanor charge of recklessly storing a firearm is punishable by up to one year in jail.

Ellenson has said previously that she has no criminal record. He has also said that her gun was secured on a top shelf in her closet and had a trigger lock.

The family has said the boy has an “acute disability” and was under a care plan that included his mother or father accompanying him to class every day. The week of the shooting was the first when a parent was not in class with him, the family said.