Mother of Richneck Elementary shooter sentenced on federal charges
Deja Taylor, the mother of the first-grade student who shot his teacher at a Newport News elementary school earlier this year, was sentenced to 21 months each in federal prison on two charges related to firearms paperwork.
She’ll serve the 21 months for each crime at the same time, or concurrently.
Taylor pleaded guilty in June to illegally obtaining and possessing a firearm and making a false statement on a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) form to purchase a firearm.
That was the gun her child later took to Richneck Elementary and used to shoot his teacher, Abby Zwerner.
Taylor still faces state charges next month. That sentence will begin after her federal sentence is up.
Taylor's attorney, Gene Rossi, emphasized during the sentencing hearing that Taylor didn’t know her son would use her gun to shoot someone.
“She's filled with guilt, and at no time did she intend or foresee the consequences of what she did,” he said after the hearing.
Zwerner attended court and read a victim impact statement. She said she has had five surgeries to try to repair the damage from the gunshot. She said some of the bullet fragments will be in her body forever.
“This permanent damage should never have been allowed to happen to me,” she told the court.
She said she can’t teach anymore.
“I loved children. And now I’m scared to have a job involving them.”
After the shooting, there were questions about what could happen to the child and if his parents could be held responsible. Virginia has a firearms-related law that punishes parents when children under 12 access and discharge a firearm without an adult present. A grand jury initially charged Taylor under that law, but it was later dropped.
Prosecutors opted to pursue child abuse and neglect charges for Taylor, a felony charge that carries far more severe sentencing guidelines.
“These charges reflect the gravity of the situation, and are supported by the facts of this particular case,” Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn said in a statement after the initial indictment against Taylor in April.
“Every criminal case is unique in its facts, and these facts support these charges.”
Taylor’s lawyer, James Ellenson, said in August he believed Taylor should get no jail time given mitigating factors, including domestic abuse, post-partum depression, anxiety and experiencing a series of miscarriages.
Prosecutors declined to charge Taylor's son, referred to as John Doe in court documents. He's now living with his great-grandfather and is undergoing therapy.