NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Four months after a 6-year-old Virginia boy shot and wounded his teacher as she taught class, an attorney for the boy’s mother said it still is not clear how the boy got the gun.
Police have said Deja Taylor legally purchased the gun used in the Jan. 6 shooting and Taylor’s attorney, James Ellenson, has said she believed her gun was secured on a high closet shelf with a trigger lock. In an interview ABC’s “Good Morning America” aired Wednesday, Ellenson said no one knows how he got it.
“People have talked to him about that, but I don’t know that any adult knows exactly how he got the gun,” Ellenson said.
Taylor said her son has ADHD and while attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder might affect others mildly, she described her son as “off the wall," saying he "doesn’t sit still ever.”
Ellenson has said the boy was under a care plan that included a family member accompanying him to class every day. The week of the shooting was the first when a parent was not in class with him. The change was made because the boy had started medication and was meeting his goals academically, Taylor said.
Taylor was charged last month with felony neglect and reckless storage of a firearm. A trial date of Aug. 15 has been set. Ellenson has said Taylor wants to reach a plea agreement with prosecutors.
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. The boy will not be prosecuted.
Taylor said she does feel responsibility for the shooting and apologized to the teacher, 25-year-old Abigail 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 said. “I just truly would like to apologize ... she did get hurt. We were actually kind of forming a relationship with me having to be in the classroom. And she is really a bright person.”
Zwerner was shot in the hand and chest as she sat at a reading table in her first-grade classroom at Richneck Elementary. She spent nearly two weeks in the hospital, has had four surgeries and later told NBC she sometimes “can’t get up out of bed.”
Zwerner filed a $40 million lawsuit that accuses school officials of gross negligence and of ignoring multiple warnings the day of the shooting. Zwerner’s attorneys say school officials knew the boy “had a history of random violence” at school and at home, including an episode the year before when he “strangled and choked” his kindergarten teacher. The boy was sent to another school, but allowed his return for first grade this school year, Zwerner’s lawsuit states.
The Newport News School Board argues her injuries fall under the state’s workers compensation act and cannot be addressed through her suit. The board pushed back against Zwerner’s claims that the child should not have remained in her class, saying he was in the process of being evaluated and treated for possible ADHD — which causes inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Even if he had been found in need of additional services, state and federal laws would have applied “for the purpose of keeping such children in the classroom with their peers when possible.”