The mother of a six-year-old who shot a teacher pleads guilty to gun crime
The mother of a 6-year-old boy who shot his teacher in Virginia earlier this year pleaded guilty to gun possession charges Monday as recent court filings contradict her attorney’s claim that the gun used was kept safe.
Deja Taylor was charged last week with illegally using drugs while in possession of a firearm and making a false statement about using marijuana when she bought the gun, court filings show. Her son shot and killed first grader Abby Zwerner in January.
Taylor, who also faces charges in state court in connection with the shooting, faces up to 25 years in prison on the federal charges, but Taylor’s attorneys reached a settlement agreement negotiated with prosecutors that carries a sentence of 18 to 24 months in prison.
“Federal firearm ownership requirements are not optional and are designed to protect owners, their family members and the communities in which they live,” Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement the hearing. “Failure to meet these requirements when purchasing or owning a firearm can have far-reaching consequences.”
The shooting drew national attention and criticism in Newport News, Virginia, due to concerns raised about whether the school administration could have prevented the incident. Administrators are currently facing a $40 million lawsuit filed by Zwerner, who was critically injured in the shooting.
Taylor’s federal indictments also appear to be relatively rare, since marijuana is legal in many US states, including Virginia.
SHOOTING AT NEWPORT NEWS SCHOOL:Deja Taylor, mother of 6-year-old man who shot and killed a teacher in Virginia, faces new federal firearm charges
What are the allegations against Deja Taylor?
Prosecutors allege Taylor knew she was an “unlawful marijuana user” when she bought a gun last year, but said it wasn’t on a form, according to court documents.
According to court documents, Taylor also admitted to using marijuana daily for about 11 years and that her “chronic” use of the drug was not recreational.
Although it is legal to grow or graze weed in Virginia, it is still considered a controlled substance under federal law that generally prohibits people from owning firearms, among other things, if they are an illegal user of a controlled substance.
Taylor was also arrested in April and charged in state court with child neglect and recklessly leaving a loaded gun to endanger a child, a misdemeanor. She is expected to appear in court in August and faces up to six years in prison if convicted on these charges.
Her attorney Gene Rossi called the case “a perfect storm with horrific consequences.”
“It’s a terrible tragedy because a wonderful teacher nearly lost his life, but it’s also a tragedy because a very young boy, a very young son, somehow got his hands on a gun that belonged to Mrs. Deja Taylor,” Rossi said to USA TODAY. “Ms. Taylor’s role in this tragedy is entirely coincidental, but she will forever be to blame for what her son did.”
Sentencing scheduled for October
Taylor is scheduled to be sentenced on October 18 on the federal charges. Rossi said he expected Zwerner and other school officials to testify at the sentencing hearing, but Diane Toscano, Zwerner’s attorney, said it wasn’t certain.
James Ellenson, another of Taylor’s attorneys, said in a statement that Taylor’s legal team will provide “extenuating evidence,” which they hope will be considered in the sentencing process.
Ellenson said he had “very constructive negotiations with federal authorities” over the application.
Court Records: Federal agents discovered marijuana in mother’s home
Federal prosecutors said federal agents searched Taylor’s purse and homes she shared with her grandfather and mother and found large quantities of marijuana and drug paraphernalia there.
On Jan. 19, nearly two weeks after Taylor’s son shot his teacher, federal officials discovered narcotic wrappers, narcotic paraphernalia, marijuana, edible marijuana wrappers, a box of ammunition and a black gun barrel lock at Taylor’s grandfather’s home, according to court documents.
Agents also searched Taylor’s mother’s home, where Taylor was staying at the time, and found additional marijuana products. Further investigations into Taylor revealed “the pervasive extent of Taylor’s marijuana use,” federal prosecutors wrote.
The investigation also found that Taylor was arrested in April 2021 after being stopped for speeding at a traffic stop in Williamsburg, Virginia, according to court documents.
The Williamsburg police officer who conducted the stop allegedly noticed “an overpowering odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle” and “marijuana was clearly visible in the vehicle,” federal prosecutors wrote.
Taylor’s then-four-year-old son was in the vehicle with her and was “sat right next to … several marijuana edibles that looked like rice treats,” according to court documents. The vehicle, Taylor’s purse and the backpack of another person in the car were also searched and allegedly contained other marijuana products, pills and digital scales.
Taylor denied knowledge of any drugs in the vehicle.
Federal prosecutors claim that no locker for the gun was found
The chief prosecutor handling the case told reporters in March that no charges would be filed against Taylor’s. Ellenson previously said it was unclear how the boy got hold of the gun, which was secured with a trigger lock and stored on a high shelf in a closet.
However, court documents show that federal agents did not find a safe deposit box, trigger lock, or trigger lock key in any of Taylor’s homes during their January search.
While authorities found a gun barrel lock at Taylor’s grandfather’s home, federal prosecutors said the lock was found in a garbage bag that was filled a few weeks before the shooting.
“The attorney’s statement that the gun was safely secured defied common sense, now we know it contradicted the evidence as well,” Toscano, Zwerner’s attorney, said in a statement to USA TODAY.
What happened on the day of the shooting?
Taylor’s son, who could not be identified, shot and killed Zwerner on January 6 while she was reading Newport News to students in her classroom at Richneck Elementary. According to police, Zwerner was shot in the hand and chest.
The school district was repeatedly warned that the boy might have a gun on the day of the shooting, according to the $40 million lawsuit Zwerner filed alleging gross negligence. The boy had a history of behavioral issues and violence toward teachers, the lawsuit says.
Taylor said her son has ADHD. The boy’s family also said that as part of a care plan with the school, he was usually accompanied to class by a parent, but the week of the shooting he was unaccompanied for the first time because his behavior had improved.
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Contribution: The Associated Press