Deja Taylor, the mother of a 6-year-old boy who shot his teacher in Virginia, was sentenced to two years in jail on a felony child neglect charge by a judge who reproved her for disregarding her parental obligations.
Taylor’s punishment, handed down by Circuit Court Judge Christopher Papile, is considered harsher than the maximum six-month sentence prosecutors agreed upon as part of a plea deal, as well as exceeding the high end of recommended state sentencing guidelines.
The 26-year-old mother pled guilty to a single count of criminal negligence in August. Prosecutors agreed to remove a misdemeanor count of recklessly storing a firearm as part of the plea arrangement.
The sentencing guidelines, according to Judge Papile, did not account for the psychological and emotional toll that the shooting took on Abigail Zwerner, the first-grade teacher, as well as other kids and staff at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News.
After the child fired a single shot at her, wounding her hand and chest, breaking bones, and puncturing a lung, Zwerner spent weeks in the hospital, had five operations, and has stated she is so mentally damaged by the shooting that she has no plans to return to teaching.
Papile remarked, “We are lucky that it was not somebody killed at Richneck Elementary,” according to CTV News.
This is Taylor’s second prison sentence for the January classroom shooting, which shocked the nation. Taylor was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison in November for using marijuana while possessing a firearm, which is illegal under U.S. law. Her state sentence will be served consecutively, giving her a total sentence of nearly four years in prison.
Her son informed police that he took his mother’s 9mm handgun by climbing over a drawer to reach the top of a dresser, where the firearm was hidden in his mother’s purse. Before shooting Zwerner in front of her first-grade class, he concealed the firearm in his bag and later in his pocket.
Investigators were unable to verify Taylor’s assertion that she used a trigger lock to secure her gun. Her son now lives with his great-grandfather, Calvin Taylor, who told reporters after the court that Papile’s sentence is “excessive.”
Calvin claimed Taylor attempted to get treatment for her son before the incident, but Child Protective Services did not act on her plea. Prosecutor Travis White stated that the boy, who is now 7, struggled with “basic socialization” and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, sleeplessness, and other illnesses.
White said, “That is the depths of neglect that Deja Taylor inflicted on her child.” He called the shooting “a consequence and manifestation of that neglect.”
According to White, the boy spent 227 days in inpatient therapy following the gunshot, where he was attended to by a team of physicians, psychiatrists, and other clinicians.
Taylor remained silent during the hearing. According to her lawyer, James Ellenson, Taylor battled domestic violence and addiction. Taylor, he claimed, has been smoking marijuana “all day, every day” since the age of 15.
Taylor’s miscarriages and postpartum depression were among the ” mitigating circumstances,” Ellenson revealed earlier this year. According to court filings, she has also been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a condition that shares symptoms with schizophrenia and bipolar illness.
Taylor admitted to “Good Morning America” in May that she feels responsible and apologized to Zwerner. “That is my son, so I am, as a parent, obviously willing to take responsibility for him because he can’t take responsibility for himself,” Taylor expressed.
During her sentencing in federal court last month, one of Taylor’s attorneys read aloud a brief statement in which Taylor said she would feel remorse “for the rest of my life.”
After the shooting, the boy told a reading specialist who restrained him, “I shot that (expletive) dead” and “I got my mom’s gun last night,” according to search warrants.
Zwerner, the injured teacher, is suing Newport News Public Schools for $40 million, alleging that administrators ignored several indications that the boy had a pistol on the day of the incident. During the trial, Zwerner recalled the shooting, telling the judge, “I was not sure whether it would be my final moment on earth.”
She claimed to have post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, as well as problems sleeping.
“The shooting has instilled many fears in me that will remain forever,” she said.
She added that because she is now terrified to work with children, she will not be going back to teaching.
“Now, at 26 years old, what am I supposed to do?” she lamented. “My life will never be close to the same again,” she added.