Grand jury indicts the mother of a 6-year-old boy who shot his Virginia teacher

The mother of a 6-year-old boy who seriously wounded his teacher with a gun in January will face charges in the shooting, a local prosecutor in Virginia said Monday.

A grand jury indicted Deja Taylor on charges of felony child neglect and a misdemeanor count of recklessly leaving a loaded firearm so as to endanger a child, Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn said. The indictment comes a month after Gwynn said he would not seek charges against the student.

“Every criminal case is unique in its facts, and these facts support these charges, but our investigation into the shooting continues,” Gwynn said in a statement on Monday.

His office has also petitioned a circuit court to empanel a special grand jury to continue an investigation into potential security lapses that may have led to the shooting.

“If the Special Grand Jury determines that additional persons are criminally responsible under the law, it can return additional indictments,” Gwynn said.

A lawyer for Taylor did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday about the charges.

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 in Virginia on March 20. Carlos Bernate for NBC News

A lawyer for Abigail Zwerner, the wounded teacher, said Monday that charges against the student’s mother are welcome but more people need to be held accountable.

“There were failures in accountability at multiple levels that led to Abby being shot and almost killed. Today’s announcement addresses but one of those failures,” lawyer Diane Toscano said, adding, “Our lawsuit makes clear that we believe the school division violated state law, and we are pursuing this in civil court. We will not allow school leaders to escape accountability for their role in this tragedy.”

A week ago, Zwerner filed a $40 million lawsuit alleging administrators at Richneck Elementary School shrugged off multiple warnings from staff and students who believed the boy had a gun and posed an imminent threat on the day of the shooting on Jan. 6.

The student shot Zwerner with a 9 mm handgun while she sat at a reading table in their first-grade classroom, according to officials.

Newport News police had praised Zwerner for managing to escort her class of about 20 students to safety even after she was seriously wounded in her left hand and chest. Police said the shooting was intentional.

More on the Virginia school shooting

The boy’s family said in a previous statement that the weapon was “secured” in the home and that they have “always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children.”

The family also said the boy has an acute disability and was receiving the “treatment he needs” under a court-ordered temporary detention at a medical facility.

According to police, his mother legally purchased the gun he used, but they haven’t said how he obtained it or if it was safely secured as the family has claimed.

In the wake of the incident, an assistant principal accused of ignoring warnings resigned and the schools superintendent, George Parker III, was removed by the school board “without cause.”

The district has also implemented metal detectors and installed a full-time security guard at Richneck.

“The safety and wellbeing of our staff and students is our most important priority,” the Newport News school board said in a prior statement, adding that officials “will continue to do whatever it takes to ensure a safe and secure teaching and learning environment across all our schools.”

The school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Zwerner’s lawsuit also alleges the school district knew the boy had a history of violence and was required to have one of his parents with him during the school day, but on the day of the shooting, no parent was with him and he wasn’t assigned a monitor.

The family’s lawyer, James Ellenson, said this month that the allegations in the complaint involving the 6-year-old “should be taken with a large grain of salt.”

“We of course continue to pray for Ms. Zwerner’s complete recovery,” he said.

Chelsea Damberg contributed.