In January 2023, a shocking incident occurred at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia. A 6-year-old boy shot his first-grade teacher, Abigail Zwerner, with a gun he had taken from his mother’s purse. The boy’s mother, Deja Taylor, has since been sentenced to two years in prison for child neglect, a sentence harsher than the six-month recommendation agreed upon in her plea deal. This case has sparked a nationwide conversation about the importance of gun safety, particularly in homes with children.
The boy managed to access the firearm by climbing onto a drawer to reach the top of a dresser, where his mother’s purse was hidden. He then concealed the weapon in his backpack and shot his teacher in front of his first-grade class.
After the shooting, the boy was quoted as saying, “I did it … I shot that bitch dead,” and “I got my mom’s gun last night”. Taylor initially told investigators she had secured her gun with a trigger lock, but investigators said they never found one. As part of her plea deal, local prosecutors agreed to drop a misdemeanor count of recklessly storing a firearm.
In addition to the state sentence, Taylor was also sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for using marijuana while owning a firearm, which is illegal under U.S. law. The combination of her state and federal sentences amounts to a total punishment of nearly four years.
The teacher, Abby Zwerner, sustained a gunshot wound through her hand and into her chest. She spent nearly two weeks in the hospital and has undergone five surgeries to restore motion to her hand. Zwerner has filed a $40 million lawsuit against Newport News Public Schools, alleging administrators ignored warnings.
Taylor’s son, now 7, is being cared for by his great-grandfather, and Taylor is allowed supervised contact with her son at the discretion of the great-grandfather. The boy has been reported to have problems with “basic socialization” and suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome among other disorders.
The Importance of Gun Safety
Responsible gun ownership is crucial to ensure that guns are used safely, stored securely, and don’t end up in the wrong hands. Secure gun storage can prevent theft and access by children, unauthorized users, and anyone who may pose a danger to themselves or others. This means storing them unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition.
All gun owners should be educated on the risks associated with guns and the best practices for gun safety. Under federal law and the vast majority of state laws, a person is not required to complete firearm safety training before buying a gun. This means a person can purchase a gun without ever having handled one—and in many states, that person would also be allowed to carry it in public without training.
The Deja Taylor case serves as a stark reminder of the importance of gun safety. It underscores the need for responsible gun ownership, secure storage, and education about the risks associated with firearms. As this case has shown, failure to adhere to these principles can have devastating consequences.
There are several aspects of this story that can be further explored:
- Details of the Incident: The 6-year-old boy told a teacher after the shooting at Richneck Elementary School that “I did it” and “I got my mom’s gun last night,” according to newly unsealed court documents. The child made these statements to another teacher who had restrained him after he opened fire on his first-grade teacher, Abigail Zwerner.
- How the Boy Obtained the Gun: The boy’s mother, Deja Taylor, typically stored her firearm in her purse with a trigger lock in place, or in a lock box. On the morning of the shooting, Taylor believed the gun was in her purse with the trigger lock installed and left on top of her bedroom dresser. The key for the lock was kept under her bedroom mattress.
- Legal Consequences for the Mother: As part of the investigation, Taylor pleaded guilty in federal court to the use of marijuana while possessing a firearm. She is expected to be sentenced in October and could receive 18 months to 24 months in prison.
- Family’s Statement: The family of the 6-year-old boy released a statement through a spokesperson, saying, “Our family has always been committed to responsible gun ownership and keeping firearms out of the reach of children.” They added that their son “suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school that included his mother or father attending school with him and accompanying him to class every day.”
- Impact on the Teacher: After Zwerner was shot, she ushered all of her students out of the classroom, according to police2. The police chief called her “a hero” who “saved lives.”