Mother of 6-Year-Old Richneck Shooter Charged
Peter Dujardin, Daily Press, April 10, 2023
A Newport News grand jury on Monday indicted the mother of the 6-year-old boy who shot his first grade teacher at Richneck Elementary School three months ago.
Deja Nicole Taylor, 25, of Newport News — whose son shot 25-year-old teacher Abby Zwerner during class on Jan. 6 — was charged with felony child neglect and a misdemeanor count of recklessly leaving a firearm so as to endanger a child.
Newport News prosecutors have also asked a Circuit Court judge to impanel a “special grand jury” to “continue the investigation into any security issues that may have contributed to this shooting.” This could include looking at Richneck administrators, the school system and anyone else.
“Every criminal case is unique in its facts, and these facts support these charges, but our investigation into the shooting continues,” Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn said in the release.
The news that a 6-year-old student shot his teacher during class at Richneck made headlines across the country and the world.
As the boy sat at his desk in his first grade classroom that day, he suddenly pulled a gun out of his front hoodie pocket, pointed it at his teacher — seated at a reading table less than 10 feet away — and fired a single round.
The bullet went through Zwerner’s left hand — which she held up as the boy opened fire — and then struck her in the upper chest and shoulder, where it remains today. Police have called the shooting an intentional act.
Zwerner, of York County, managed to shuttle 18 students out of the first grade classroom before seeking help at a school office.
Police Chief Steve Drew later said the 6-year-old used his mother’s handgun, a Taurus 9mm. She legally purchased the firearm in York County, with the boy bringing it to school in his backpack.
Gwynn has ruled out charging the 6-year-old, saying he’s too young to have formed the criminal intent necessary. But the prosecutor’s office has looked into the case — and possible charges against others — for the past six weeks.
Taylor hasn’t been arrested on the charges, with Taylor’s defense attorney, James Ellenson, having said that prosecutors have agreed to allow him to take Taylor to turn herself in.
Ellenson has said his client strongly maintains she kept the gun secured by a trigger lock, a mechanism that prevents the weapon from being fired.
Moreover, Ellenson asserted that the handgun was stored on the top shelf of a bedroom closet. Taylor has “no idea” how the boy gained access to the gun on the day of the shooting, Ellenson said.
She has no prior criminal record, according to Ellenson and a check of local courts.
In a lawsuit last week against the Newport News School Board, Zwerner contends that one administrator, Richneck Assistant Principal Ebony Parker, ignored several stark warnings that the boy had a gun on him that day.
Two days before the shooting, the complaint said, the boy took and threw Zwerner’s cell phone, shattering the glass. That led to a one-day suspension.
On Jan. 6, the complaint says, Zwerner told Parker the boy was in a “violent mood” and threatened to beat up a kindergartener during lunch. But Parker “had no response … refusing even to look up at (Zwerner) when she expressed her concerns,” the complaint asserts.
During recess, Zwerner told a reading specialist and another teacher that she saw the 6-year-old taking something out of his backpack in the classroom. The reading specialist searched the boy’s pack — still in the classroom — but didn’t find a weapon.
But when that reading specialist approached Parker, the complaint contends, she replied the boy has little pockets that were too small to hold a handgun.
The other first grade teacher pulled another student aside after recess and asked about a gun, the complaint says. That student then tearfully admitted that the 6-year-old showed him a gun at recess, the complaint alleges.
That teacher called the school office, the complaint says, urgently telling a Richneck music teacher about the concerns. But when the music teacher approached Parker, she said the boy’s backpack had already been searched.
When a guidance counselor sought permission to search the boy, the complaint says Parker denied the request on the grounds that the 6-year-old’s mother would soon be by to pick him up.