Mom of Virginia 6-year-old who shot his teacher was depressed, attorney says

Mom of Virginia 6-year-old who shot his teacher was depressed, attorney says

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The mother of a 6-year-old Virginia boy who shot and wounded his teacher had a series of miscarriages and post-partum depression in the year before the shooting, her attorney said Friday, after she was arraigned on charges of child neglect and failing to secure the handgun her son used in the shooting.

Police say the boy fired a single shot at his first-grade teacher, Abigail Zwerner, on Jan. 6, striking her in the left hand and chest. She spent two weeks in the hospital and has had four surgeries since shooting.

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.Carlos Bernate for NBC News

A grand jury indicted Deja Taylor this week, and she was released on a $5,000 bond after turning herself in Thursday.

The 25-year-old woman appeared somber and stood with her hands clasped behind her back as the two charges against her were read in Newport News Circuit Court. She did not speak except to say “no, sir” in response to a question from the judge. After the hearing, she quickly walked away from a scrum of reporters and TV cameras without commenting.

Her attorney, James Ellenson, said his client wants to reach a plea agreement with prosecutors and hopes they will consider what he called “mitigating circumstances.” He cited a number of miscarriages the woman had, including one following an ectopic pregnancy that resulted in a hospital stay in January 2022. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a pregnancy develops outside the uterus, often in a fallopian tube. Ellenson said the miscarriages suffered in post-partum depression.

Deja Taylor arrives with attorney James Ellenson at the Sheriff's Office in Newport News, Va., on April 13, 2023, to turn herself in.
Deja Taylor arrives with attorney James Ellenson at the Sheriff’s Office in Newport News, Va., to turn himself in Thursday. Billy Schuerman / Newport News Daily Press via Getty Images

“We’re looking forward to working collaboratively with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to resolve the charges,” Ellenson said, adding that he is hoping for “something that is fair, something that is just.”

Ellenson has requested a trial before a judge instead of a jury. A trial date of Aug. 15 has been set.

The felony neglect charge is punishable by up to five years in prison. The misdemeanor charge of recklessly storing a firearm is punishable by up to one year in jail.

Ellenson has said the mother believed her gun, which was legally purchased, was secured on a top shelf in her closet and had a trigger lock. It is unclear how the boy got the gun and was able to take it to school on the day of the shooting.

Zwerner filed a $40 million lawsuit against the school system last week, accusing school officials of gross negligence and of ignoring multiple warnings from teachers and others in the hours before the shooting that the boy had a gun.

The city prosecutor’s office said Tuesday that it is investigating whether the “actions or omissions” of any school employees could lead to criminal charges.

Ellenson said the boy had an “acute disability” and was under a care plan that included his mother, father or grandfather accompanying him to class every day. The week of shooting was the first when a parent was not in class with him.

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