NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – A red box of ammunition and a black firearm barrel lock were found at the home where the mother of a 6-year-old Richneck Elementary School student who police say shot his teacher lived, but neither a lockbox nor a trigger lock or key to a trigger lock was ever found at that home or at another residence where she had lived with her mother.
That’s according to a Statement of Facts filed in the case Monday, the same day the child’s mother, Deja Taylor, pleaded guilty to a pair of federal gun charges – unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm and making a false statement during the purchase of a firearm.
Taylor was surrounded by family and her team of attorneys as she left the courthouse Monday afternoon. She didn’t make a comment, but her attorney told us this case is a tragedy and Taylor’s role in this case is a complete accident.
“I want to stress that Ms. Taylor’s role in this tragedy is a complete accident and a complete mistake,” said Attorney Gene Rossi. “However she takes full responsibility for the actions of her son and feels tremendous guilt.”
Taylor is the mother of the 6-year-old boy who police say shot first grade teacher Abby Zwerner. She was seriously injured, but survived the shooting.
The recommended sentence for the federal charges is 18 to 24 months, but the judge will have the final say, which caused a delay in court Monday, because Taylor’s lawyers thought that was the maximum sentence she would get.
“We have disagreements and some of them are serious. Some of them are over language. And we came to an agreement and we moved ahead,” said Rossi.
At the time of the shooting, court documents say Taylor was living with her grandfather, but left on January 6 to stay with her mother. Her attorney confirmed to WAVY her child was living with her at the time, but isn’t anymore.
Those documents say a lock box, trigger lock or key to the trigger lock were never found in either home.
“This case is a tragedy. A perfect storm of horrible consequences. A terrible tragedy because a brave and courageous teacher almost lost her life. Also a tragedy because a very young boy, a 6 year old, somehow got ahold of a gun owned by his mother Deja Taylor,” said Rossi.
Another of Taylor’s attorneys, James Ellenson, said in April that they stood by the family statement issued Jan. 19 that stated the firearm was secured. Taylor, in April, was indicted by a grand jury and charged with felony child neglect and misdemeanor recklessly leaving a loaded firearm so as to endanger a child. Her trial on those charges is scheduled for Aug. 15.
Ellenson also said at that time that there were several mitigating factors in the case, including a medical issue in which Taylor “had had a number of miscarriages and she had a very severe miscarriage – an ectopic pregnancy miscarriage – that was in January of 2022 that resulted in Postpartum depression and that has been a large factor in a number of events that led up to the unfortunate event on January 6th.”
Federal agents executing a search warrant at Taylor’s home in January of this year, about two weeks after the shooting at Richneck Elementary in Newport News, found the red box of ammunition and a black firearm barrel lock in trash bags outside her grandfather’s home.
However, the court document indicated a lockbox was not found in either of her rooms at her mother’s apartment or her grandfather’s house, “nor was a trigger lock or key to a trigger lock ever found.”
Taylor had said last week through Ellenson that she would plead guilty to the federal gun charges.
Taylor’s grandfather, identified as C.T. in a Statement of Facts court filing Monday, indicated that he had showed agents trash bags of Taylor’s belongings that he had placed in the garage a few weeks before the Jan. 6 shooting of Abby Zwerner inside her classroom.
On Jan. 19, agents executed a federal search warrant at Taylor’s home. Though Taylor was not there, her grandfather C.T. was. He had told agents that Taylor “had taken some of her belongings in a suitcase and left C.T.’s residence and began staying with Taylor’s mother.”
Besides the black firearm barrel lock and the red box of ammunition, the garbage bags contained a jar of suspected marijuana and narcotics packaging. Agents seized narcotics packaging, narcotics paraphernalia, suspected marijuana and marijuana residue from Taylor’s bedroom in the home, according to the Statement of Facts.
Agents also found inside Taylor’s purse a glass jar with suspected marijuana, marijuana paraphernalia, used marijuana cigarettes and marijuana packaging material.
At the home of Taylor’s mother, identified in the court document as C.H., about 24.5 grams of marijuana, marijuana edible packaging, marijuana paraphernalia including Dutch Master cigar wraps, plastic bags and burnt marijuana cigarettes were found. The Statement of Facts also noted that the marijuana items were field tested and returned positive for marijuana.
Newport News Police responding to the classroom scene on the day of the shooting found a Taurus, Model PT111 G2A, 9mm semiautomatic handgun and a crime scene technician with the department collected the gun.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents and Task Force officers executed an emergency trace of the firearm and found it was purchased by Taylor July 19, 2022 from Winfree Firearms Inc. in Yorktown, where agents got a copy of the ATF firearms transaction record, according to the Virginia firearms transaction record for the firearm.
At that time, Taylor was required to complete the ATF form, on which she falsely stated that she was not an unlawful user of marijuana or other controlled substances.
Six days after the Jan. 6 shooting, federal agents conducted a controlled garbage bin search at Taylor’s home in Newport News, where they found “copious amounts of marijuana and packaging for marijuana edibles.”
The federal search warrant was executed a week later.
During their investigation, federal agents found a police report from the Williamsburg Police Department from April 3, 2021 in which police indicated they had detected “an overwhelming odor” of marijuana coming from the car Taylor was driving, and noted that marijuana was in plain view, along with her child, then 4 years old. Police said that directly next to the child were several marijuana edibles that looked like rice treats.
A backpack claimed by another person contained “numerous individually packaged marijuana rice treats, gummies containing THC, suspected crack cocaine, two large bags of marijuana, two packages of ‘BackpackBoyz’ marijuana from California, suspected oxycodone pills, green plant material, a smoking device and more edibles.”
At that time, Taylor, who had been advised of her Miranda rights, denied all knowledge of drugs inside the vehicle.
Taylor is scheduled to be sentenced on the two federal gun charges Oct. 18 and faces a maximum of 25 years in prison. Craig Kailimai, the ATF Washington field division special agent in charge, stressed that anyone who unlawfully uses or is addicted to controlled substances such as marijuana are not legally allowed to have firearms or ammunition.
“It is clear from this case that enforcement of our existing federal firearm laws is critical to ensuring public safety,” said Jessica Aber, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in a statement. “Federal requirements for firearm ownership are not optional and exist to protect owners, their family members and the communities where they live. Failing to abide by those requirements when purchasing or possessing a firearm can have far-reaching consequences.”
“We now move on to the sentencing where we are going to ask the court for a fair level of compassion,” said Rossi. “I really believe at the end of the day that Deja Taylor will get justice and compassion.”