The mother of a 6-year-old who shot his first-grade teacher in a Virginia classroom faces criminal charges of neglect and endangerment, the authorities said on Monday, the latest development in a case that stunned the community and brought a new level of concern to the charged debate over guns and school safety.
A grand jury in Newport News indicted the mother, Deja Taylor, 26, on one felony charge of child neglect and a misdemeanor charge of child endangerment involving a loaded weapon, the city’s prosecutor said in a statement. Her son shot his teacher once with a handgun at Richneck Elementary School on Jan. 6, seriously injuring her.
The indictments followed an investigation by the Newport News Police Department and the office of the commonwealth’s attorney. James Ellenson, a lawyer representing the child’s family, said Ms. Taylor would turn herself in to the authorities this week, but he would not comment further on the charges.
The child has not been charged, and the prosecutor, Howard E. Gwynn, said last month that the “prospect that a 6-year-old can stand trial is problematic.” But in a statement on Monday, Mr. Gwynn said that he was asking a judge to create a special grand jury to investigate possible security issues at the school, which could lead to more charges.
The shooting in Newport News, a city of more than 180,000 people about 70 miles southeast of Richmond, Va., drew significant attention because of the child’s age and questions about the school’s response and the boy’s access to the weapon. The teacher, Abigail Zwerner, 25, had been in the middle of a routine lesson when, the police said, the boy pulled out the gun, aimed it at her and fired.
The Aftermath of the Virginia Teacher Shooting
- What Happened: On Jan. 6, a first-grader at a school in Newport News, Va., shot a teacher with a handgun that he had brought from home.
- Ignored Warnings: School leaders were warned three times that the boy might have a gun, a lawyer for the teacher said. In the fallout of the revelations, the school board voted to end the superintendent’s contract.
- The Teacher Speaks: In an interview with NBC’s “Today” show in March, Abigail Zwerner recounted the shooting, saying she would “never forget” the look on the boy’s face.
- The Charges: While the boy will not be charged, a grand jury indicted his mother, who faces one felony charge of child neglect and a misdemeanor charge for child endangerment that involves a loaded weapon.
A single bullet passed through her hand and struck her chest.
Days after the shooting, a spokeswoman for the Newport News public school district, Michelle Price, confirmed that a staff member had searched the child’s backpack before the shooting took place “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.
The gun had been legally purchased by the boy’s mother, the police said. The lawyer for the family, Mr. Ellenson, has said that the gun was stored on a top shelf of the mother’s bedroom closet and had a trigger lock.
Virginia law prohibits leaving a loaded gun where it is accessible to children under 14, but in contrast to some other states, such as Oregon and Massachusetts, there is not a broad law that requires that all guns be safely stored in homes.
The boy’s family said in a January statement that the child had an “acute disability” and had previously been accompanied to school each day by his mother or father. The week of the shooting, the statement said, was the first time that a parent had not been in class with him. “We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives,” the family statement said.
A lawyer for Ms. Zwerner has said that in the hours before she was shot, school officials had been warned three times that the boy might have a gun, including requests from employees to search the boy’s pockets and a report from another child who said that the boy had shown him the gun at recess.
The teacher’s lawyer, Diane Toscano, has filed a lawsuit against the school district. In a statement on Monday, she said that school leaders should be held accountable.
“There were failures in accountability at multiple levels that led to Abby being shot and almost killed,” Ms. Toscano said. “Today’s announcement addresses but one of those failures. It has been three months of investigation, and still so many unanswered questions remain.”