The mother of a 6-year-old boy who shot his first-grade teacher in a Virginia classroom was sentenced Friday to two years in prison after pleading guilty in August to felony child neglect.
The sentencing of the mother, Deja Taylor, is the latest development in a case that has garnered national attention amid heated debates over guns and school safety. The January shooting in a first-grade classroom at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News shocked the community because of the boy's age and raised questions about the school's response and the boy's access to the gun.
Ms. Taylor's lawyer, James S. Ellenson, had previously said that prosecutors had agreed to ask for only six months in prison, given Ms. Taylor's lack of a criminal record before this episode. He called the judge's decision “excessive and harsh.”
The judge, Christopher R. Papile, said Friday that Ms. Taylor had abdicated her responsibilities as a mother and that the results were “atrocious,” The Daily Press reported.
He added that the negligence charge was more serious than the federal charges Ms. Taylor had already faced. Last month, she was sentenced to one year and nine months in prison after pleading guilty to using marijuana while possessing a firearm and making false statements about drug use. The two sentences will be served consecutively.
“She is very upset and sad,” Ellenson said of the new sentence. She added that the boy, who was not charged, is in the custody of her great-grandfather.
The teacher who was shot, Abigail Zwerner, was in the middle of a routine lesson when, police said, the boy pulled out the gun, pointed it at her and fired. A single bullet passed through his hand and hit his chest; She was seriously injured but survived. She has since filed a lawsuit seeking $40 million in damages from school officials, accusing them of gross negligence.
Days after the shooting, a Newport News Public School District spokeswoman confirmed that a staff member had searched the boy's backpack before the shooting occurred “after it was reported that the student may have a weapon.” No weapon was found. Later that month, the school board voted to terminate the contract of the district's superintendent, George Parker III.
Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun in a place accessible to children under 14, but there is no comprehensive law requiring all guns to be stored safely in homes.
The boy's family said in a January statement that the boy had an “acute disability” and had previously been accompanied to school every day by his mother or father. The week of the shooting, according to the statement, was the first time a parent was not in class with him.
“We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the family statement said.
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