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Mother of Virginia 6-Year-Old Who Shot a Teacher Bags Two Years in Prison for Child Neglect

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The mother of a Virginia first-grade student who shot his teacher with a gun earlier this year is now facing two years in prison. Her crime? Felony child neglect. 

Her name is Deja Taylor. Her six-year-old son on January 6 took her gun with him to school. That experience ended with him shooting and injuring Abby Zwerner. 

Taylor pleaded guilty in August after cutting a deal with state prosecutors. They were to drop the allegations of her endangering her child by leaving a loaded firearm lying around.

The sentencing is a little more extreme than sentencing guidelines suggest. It is even beyond the range of what prosecutors requested. Their recommendation was a six-month sentence as part of the plea deal. 

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“Two years is excessive given her mental health issues as well as her being the victim of repeated instances of domestic violence,” James Ellenson, Taylor’s defense attorney, says.

The shooting has many tongues wagging once again about gun violence in schools and about children’s access to firearms. The injured teacher is also suing the Newport News school district, demanding $40 million. 

She claims school officials ignored warnings on the day of the shooting that the child was with a gun in school. Zwerner caught the bullets in the hand and chest. It led to two weeks of hospitalization and multiple surgeries.

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Taylor’s son shot Zwerner while she was reading to her first graders at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News.

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There were several warnings to school officials on the day of the shooting that the boy might have a gun, Zwerner’s lawsuit claims. The suit also says the boy had a history of behavioral challenges and violence toward teachers. 

One incident saw him reportedly choke a teacher. His mom, Taylor, is aware of her son’s behavioral and learning disabilities. She has acknowledged his previous suspension from school just before the shooting for breaking Zwerner’s phone.

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She said he once needed to attend school alongside a family member. Taylor says she does not know how her son got the gun, but she takes responsibility.

“I am, as a parent, obviously willing to take responsibility for him because he can’t take responsibility,” she said. Taylor made guilty pleas that indicated “her willingness to accept responsibility for her role in this terrible tragedy.” 

Attorneys for Taylor initially claimed the 9 mm handgun he used was usually kept secure. However, there is no evidence it was stored safely. After the shooting, Taylor’s son told police he just had to climb a dresser to access the gun. 

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“My mom had that gun,” he told officers. “I stole it because I needed to shoot my teacher.”

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, he received treatment at a hospital for mental health issues. Officials have also said he is too young to face prosecution in the shooting.

His mom is a different case, but her attorney hopes that her history of mental issues and drug addiction will be mitigating factors during the sentencing. 

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