NEWPORT NEWS, Va.—The mother of a 6-year-old boy who shot his teacher in Virginia pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to using marijuana while possessing a firearm, which is illegal under U.S. law.
Deja Taylor is accused of lying about her marijuana use on a form when she bought the gun, which her son later used to shoot Abby Zwerner in her classroom in Newport News. The first-grade teacher was seriously wounded and has endured multiple surgeries.
Taylor’s attorneys agreed to a negotiated plea agreement with prosecutors that calls for a sentence of 18 months to 24 months in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 18.
Attorney Gene Rossi described the shooting as “a perfect storm of horrible consequences” in which a “brave courageous teacher almost lost her life.”
“Miss Taylor’s role in this tragedy is a complete accident and a complete mistake,” he said. “She takes full responsibility for her son’s actions and will feel guilt for the rest of her life.”
The federal case against Taylor is separate from the charges she faces on the state level: felony child neglect and reckless storage of a firearm. A trial for those counts is set for August.
Both cases are among the repercussions that followed the January shooting, which shook the city of Newport News near the Atlantic Coast.
Marijuana is a controlled substance under U.S. law. And federal law generally prohibits people from possessing firearms if they’ve been convicted of a felony, been committed to a mental institution or are an unlawful user of a controlled substance, among other things.
In the days after the 6-year-old shot his teacher, agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives searched Taylor’s home and found marijuana, federal prosecutors said in a statement Monday. Agents also searched Taylor’s mother’s house, where Taylor was staying, and found about 24.5 grams of marijuana.
“A search of Taylor’s phone revealed numerous text messages illustrating the pervasive scope of Taylor’s marijuana use,” prosecutors said.
When Taylor was pulled over by local police in 2021, they found “several marijuana edibles that looked like rice treats” next to her son, prosecutors said. Taylor denied all knowledge of drugs inside the vehicle.
When Taylor bought the 9mm handgun in 2022, Taylor falsely claimed on a background check form that she didn’t use marijuana.
U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber said in a statement Monday that federal gun ownership laws “exist to protect owners, their family members and the communities where they live.”
“Failing to abide by those requirements … can have far-reaching consequences,” Aber said.