Mother of 6 year old who shot teacher charged with neglect

First grade teacher Abigail Zwerner was shot by one of her students in January. Zwerner later filed a lawsuit against the school. In an interview last month, she described multiple warnings the school received that the student was armed prior to the shooting. Three separate warnings were ignored and the administrators who received the warnings never called the police.

Police decided weeks ago that they would not and indeed probably could not charge the 6-year-old with a crime. Under Virginia law no one under the age of 7 is considered capable of forming criminal intent. As I suggested before, that doesn’t actually seem to be the case with this child. He was suspended for a day after breaking Zwerner’s cell phone and then returned to school with the gun, intent on harming her. He shot her as she was reading a lesson. The bullet passed through her hand and entered her chest. She escorted her other students out of the room before going to the principal’s office where she collapsed. The student was held by another teacher until the police arrived.

The big outstanding question in this case (beside how much the district will end up paying Zwerner) is how the 6-year-old got a loaded gun. A lawyer for the boy’s mother claimed the gun was locked up on a high shelf but hasn’t explained how it got from there to his backpack. Today, we learned that two charges have been filed against the boy’s mother, one felony and one misdemeanor.

Deja Taylor, 25, of Newport News, is facing one felony count of child neglect and one misdemeanor count of recklessly storing a firearm so a child could gain access to it. The weapon the boy used belonged to Taylor, authorities have said. If convicted, Taylor faces up to five years in prison on the felony and up to a one-year sentence on the misdemeanor…

James Ellenson, an attorney for the boy’s family, wrote in a brief email “my client will be turning herself in later this week,” but did not offer comment on the charges. He said previously in an interview that the gun was stored with a trigger lock and placed on the top shelf of the mother’s bedroom closet. He said it was unclear how the boy accessed the weapon. Authorities have said the mother purchased the gun legally.

This child had been in trouble before and not just for breaking a phone. In fact, he’d been violent toward another adult teacher a year earlier.

Teachers’ fears about the 6-year-old date back to his kindergarten year, when he tried to strangle his teacher, according to a letter Zwerner’s attorney sent to the school system Jan. 24 announcing her intent to sue…

“The shooter had been removed from the school a year prior after he choked his teacher until she couldn’t breathe,” says the letter, obtained by The Post through a public records request. It was not immediately clear how a boy so young could have choked an adult…

Less than a week into September, officials switched the 6-year-old to a half-day schedule due to misbehavior — but administrators were already lagging in efforts to accommodate the student, according to Toscano’s letter and to text messages sent between Zwerner and a friend of hers who teaches at the school.

It was not clear what specific incident triggered the schedule change. Toscano wrote in her letter that the 6-year-old “constantly cursed at the staff and teachers and then one day took off his belt on the playground and chased kids trying to whip them.”

His behavior was so bad that he was put on a half-day schedule and even then one of his parents had to attend school with him for the duration of his day. The day of the shooting was the first day a parent wasn’t with him in weeks.

The boy arrived on campus around 11 a.m., passing a school sign that still wished students “Happy New Year” in capital letters. He was accompanied by his mother, according to a second-grade teacher who said she spoke with the mother in the hallway.

Before that day, due to an unspecified disability, the boy followed a special schedule in which his parents shadowed him to and during class, the family said in a statement last month. On Jan. 6, for unknown reasons, the parents discontinued that plan: “The week of the shooting was the first week when we were not in class with him,” the statement said.

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. How did he get the gun if it was locked up? Why was this troubled child left alone without a parent on that day? Why didn’t administrators search him or call police to do it after multiple reports he might have a gun? Hopefully we’ll get some answers to these questions in the course of his mother’s trial. But this looks like another case where everyone was aware this child was a danger and no one did anything about it.
Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher is the editor and publisher of High Plains Pundit. Dan is also the host of the popular High Plains Pundit Podcast.

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