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Mother of 6-year-old student who shot teacher charged with child neglect | CNN


The mother of a 6-year-old who shot his first-grade teacher in Newport News, Virginia, in January has been indicted on charges of felony child neglect, and one count of recklessly leaving a firearm to endanger a child, a news release from the office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney said Monday.

The child will not be criminally charged, Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn said last month.

Deja Taylor’s son shot his teacher Abigail Zwerner, 25, on January 6 at Richneck Elementary School, leaving her in the hospital with gunshot wounds to her hand and chest, investigators said.

The indictment comes after a “thorough investigation” from the police and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, according to the news release.

James Ellenson, one of the attorneys for the family, said in an email, “She will be turning herself in later this week.”

He declined further comment on the indictment.

The family has said in a statement the boy has an “acute disability” and was under a care plan which required a parent to attend school with him, though he was unaccompanied on the day of the shooting. “We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the statement read.

A lawsuit brought this month by Zwerner alleges school administrators and the school board were aware of the student’s “history of random violence” and did not act proactively amid concerns over a firearm in the boy’s possession the day of the shooting.

Ellenson said last week the allegations in the lawsuit against the child and the family “should be taken with a large grain of salt.”

“We of course continue to pray for Ms. Zwerner’s complete recovery,” Ellenson said without commenting further on the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, which seeks $40 million in compensatory damages, an attorney for Zwerner alleges school staff and administrators at Richneck Elementary School were aware the child was violent at home and his parents refused to place him in special education classrooms.

According to the court document, during the first half of the school year, the 6-year-old was required to be accompanied by a parent during the school day “because of his violent tendencies.” But that day, school administrators “allowed him to remain unaccompanied without a one-on-one companion during the school day,” the complaint says.

The suit also alleges the school’s then-assistant principal ignored concerns and warning signs flagged by several teachers and staff members, including that the 6-year-old may have had a firearm in his possession in the hours leading up to the January 6 shooting.

A guidance counselor and administrator at the elementary school said assistant principal Ebony Parker also “forbade” teachers from searching the 6-year-old for a firearm, saying his “mother would be arriving soon to pick him up,” the complaint says.

Diane Toscano, an attorney for Zwerner, said Monday the lawsuit makes it clear “we believe the school division violated state law.”

“There were failures in accountability at multiple levels that led to Abby being shot and almost killed. Today’s announcement addresses but one of those failures,” Toscano said in an email. “It has been three months of investigation and still so many unanswered questions remain.”

The fallout from the incident was swift, drawing harsh criticism from parents and leading the school board to vote to oust Superintendent George Parker III. Ebony Parker resigned two weeks after the shooting and the principal, Briana Foster Newton, was reassigned to another school, though the district did not say where.

CNN requested comment from Parker about the lawsuit but has not heard back.

The circuit court has also asked to impanel a special grand jury to continue the investigation, according to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s news release.

“The Special Grand Jury will investigate to determine whether additional charges against additional persons are justified by the facts and the law,” Gwynn said in the release. “If the Special Grand Jury determines that additional persons are criminally responsible under the law, it can return additional indictments.”

In her first interview since the shooting, Zwerner told NBC in March she can’t forget the look on the child’s face as he aimed the gun at her.

“I remember him pointing the gun at me, I remember the look on his face,” Zwerner said. “I remember the gun going off.”

Asked about her recovery, Zwerner said, “I’ve been doing OK. It’s been challenging.”

“Some days are not-so-good days where I can’t get up out of bed,” she told NBC. “Some days are better than others where I’m able to get out of bed and make it to my appointments. But from going through what I’ve gone through, I try to stay positive.”

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