Deja Taylor arrives with attorney James Ellenson at the Sheriff's Office in Newport News, Va., on April 13, 2023, to turn herself in.

Mother of 6-year-old who shot Virginia teacher is sentenced to 21 months in prison

The mother of a 6-year-old student who shot his first-grade teacher in Virginia has been sentenced to nearly two years in prison.

Deja Taylor was sentenced Wednesday to 21 months in prison for using marijuana while owning a firearm.

Virginia elementary school teacher Abigail Zwerner poses for a portrait at an undisclosed location in Virginia on March 20, 2023.Virginia elementary school teacher Abigail Zwerner in Virginia on March 20.Carlos Bernate for NBC News

Taylor’s son used her gun when he shot Abigail Zwerner, 26, in January at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, prosecutors said.

He fired a 9 mm handgun while Zwerner was sitting at the reading table in their first-grade classroom, officials said.

“This was not an accidental shooting,” Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said at the time. 

Zwerner was shot in her left hand and upper chest. She had multiple operations and spent nearly two weeks in the hospital. No one else was hurt in the shooting.

Even while she was wounded, Zwerner led her first-grade students to safety. Drew said he believed she saved lives.

Nearly three months after the shooting, Zwerner filed a $40 million lawsuit against school administrators, alleging that they ignored warnings from faculty members and other students who believed the boy had a gun at school the day of the shooting and posed a threat.

Zwerner’s lawyers have said school leaders were warned at least three times that the student had a gun.

Zwerner said she reported the student’s “violent mood” to school staff members that day and told leaders that he had threatened to physically assault a classmate, according to the complaint.

Another teacher reported that two students said they saw a gun in his backpack, the complaint said. She also reported seeing the student place an item in his sweatshirt pocket at recess.

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Authorities searched his backpack and found nothing, the complaint said, and dismissed the idea that he could be holding a gun in his sweatshirt.

According to the complaint, a third teacher reported that the boy showed a student the gun at recess and that that student told another teacher the boy “would hurt him if he told anyone.”

A fourth staff member asked a school administrator for permission to search the boy, but the administrator would not allow it, according to the complaint.

The boy reportedly exhibited troubling behavior leading up to the shooting.

Two days before the incident, he slammed Zwerner’s cellphone into the ground, shattering it, according to the complaint, an action for which he faced a one-day suspension.

When he was in kindergarten, the boy choked a teacher and pulled up the dress of a female student who had fallen and touched her inappropriately, the complaint said.

“Teachers’ concerns with John Doe’s behavior was regularly brought to the attention of Richneck Elementary School administration, and the concerns were always dismissed,” the suit says. “Often when he was taken to the school office to address his behavior, he would return to the classroom shortly thereafter with some type of reward, such as a piece of candy.”

Rebecca Cohen

Rebecca Cohen is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.