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New details emerge on how 6-year-old boy who shot Virginia teacher got mom's gun

The child told a teacher after the shooting at Richneck Elementary School that "I did it" and "I got my mom's gun last night," according to newly unsealed court documents.
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The 6-year-old boy who seriously wounded his teacher at a Virginia elementary school in January said in the aftermath that "I did it" and "I got my mom's gun last night," according to newly unsealed court documents.

The child made the statements to another teacher who had restrained him after he opened fire on his first-grade teacher, Abigail Zwerner, as she sat reading to her class at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, according to a probable cause statement and search warrant affidavit.

The documents shed light on how the boy likely obtained the weapon, a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun, used in the shooting. His mother, Deja Taylor, told Newport News police in an interview that she typically "stores her firearm in her purse with a trigger lock in place, or in a lock box," according to the probable cause statement.

On Jan. 6, the morning of the shooting, Taylor believed the gun was in her purse with the trigger lock installed and left on top of her bedroom dresser, according to the statement. She added that the key for the lock is kept under her bedroom mattress.

Newport News police have previously said the gun was legally purchased, but were investigating whether it was properly secured as the child's family has claimed.

Police respond to a shooting that injured a teacher at Richneck Elementary
Police respond to a shooting that injured a teacher at Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 6.Billy Schuerman / The Virginian-Pilot/Tribune News Service via Getty Images file

James Ellenson, a lawyer for the family, has said Taylor believes the gun was placed on a high closet shelf with a trigger lock. But he acknowledged in May that questions still remain about how the child accessed the weapon.

"People have talked to him about that, but I don't know that any adult knows exactly how he got the gun," Ellenson told ABC News.

As part of the investigation, Taylor, 26, pleaded guilty in federal court in June to the use of marijuana while possessing a firearm. She is expected to be sentenced in October and could receive 18 months to 24 months in prison.

The narcotics were discovered during a court-ordered search of the home in connection with the shooting at Richneck Elementary School, federal prosecutors said. It is illegal to use marijuana while possessing a firearm under U.S. law.

"A search of Taylor's phone revealed numerous text messages illustrating the pervasive scope of Taylor's marijuana use," according to prosecutors. Meanwhile, "a lockbox was not found in either of the residences, nor was a trigger lock or key to a trigger lock ever found."

Taylor faces separate state charges related to the shooting of felony child neglect and a misdemeanor count of recklessly leaving a loaded firearm so as to endanger a child. A plea hearing in the case is scheduled for Aug. 15.

The 6-year-old's ability to retrieve the gun, then use it on a teacher at his elementary school is at the heart of a case that brought national attention to school safety and stunned the community when police announced the child's actions appeared intentional.

The child's family has previously said he suffers from an "acute disability" and that he had received the "treatment he needs" under a court-ordered temporary detention at a medical facility.

As part of a care plan at the school, the boy's parents were supposed 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 cartridge casings lying on the floor. School staff members were rendering aid to Zwerner, who was shot in her left hand and upper chest.

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

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

At the time, the teacher told police, the boy was making statements, including, "I shot that b---- dead," the documents said.

In response to the release of the documents this week, Ellenson reiterated that the child has "severe emotional issues."

"He is in therapy and improving daily. We wish to thank the dedicated professionals working with him," he said in an email.

A local prosecutor said in March that the 6-year-old would not face charges given that a child that young wouldn't have the competency to understand the legal system or adequately assist an attorney.

Lawyers for Zwerner have said that claims made by the family that the gun was safely secured at home "defied common sense."

In April, Zwerner filed a $40 million lawsuit alleging school administrators shrugged off multiple warnings from staff and students who believed the boy had a gun and posed an imminent threat on the day of the shooting, and did so knowing the child "had a history of random violence."

The Newport News School Board has argued that the suit should be dismissed, and that the case should go before the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission because Zwerner's injuries occurred on the job.

A judge ruled last month that lawyers for Zwerner can begin conducting interviews and accessing records in the case.

The Newport News Public Schools said in a statement Wednesday that it cannot comment on legal actions, but that it has "worked cooperatively" with authorities and it "remains committed to ensuring the well-being and care of all students and staff."

Zwerner resigned from the school after filing the lawsuit. She told NBC News in March that she must continue to undergo physical therapy and struggles with the emotional trauma of that day.

Diane Toscano, a lawyer for Zwerner, said in a statement Wednesday that she remains "surrounded by the support of people who love and care for her, and we are thankful every day that she survived the shooting."