Mother of 6-year-old who shot teacher apologizes; can't explain how he got the gun

The mother of the 6-year-old boy who shot his teacher at a Newport News, Virginia, elementary school in January apologized for his actions, but neither she nor her lawyer could explain how the first grader accessed the gun.

"I am, as a parent, obviously willing to take responsibility for him because he can't take responsibility," Deja Taylor said in an interview with "Good Morning America" that aired Wednesday.

Taylor, 25, also said her son liked his teacher, Abigail Zwerner of Richneck Elementary, and she, too, was building a relationship with Zwerner, though in the days ahead of the January 6 incident, her son had complained about events at school.

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"He actually really liked her. I will say that week ... he felt like he was being ignored," Taylor recalled, remembering her son saying, "I don't think that she was listening to me. I didn't like that."

Earlier that week, the teacher asked the child to sit down. "He threw his arms up in the air and said 'Fine,' and when he threw his arms up, he knocked her phone out of her hand, on accident," Taylor said

That led to a suspension, she said.

A legal notice filed by Zwerner's lawyers described the incident differently, saying the boy “slammed” Zwerner’s cellphone and broke it, leading to a one-day suspension. When the boy returned to her class the next day, he pulled his mother’s 9mm handgun out of his pocket and shot her, the legal notice said.

The adults in charge failed. And a teacher was shot. By a 6-year-old child.

Zwerner, 25, was shot in the hand and chest.

The boy who shot Zwerner had constantly cursed at staff and teachers, tried to whip students with his belt and once choked another teacher “until she couldn’t breathe," Zwerner’s legal notice of her intent to sue the school district said.

Boy rarely speaks about the day of the shooting

Taylor told "Good Morning America" that her son has ADHD and that, while some children with the condition may be only mildly affected, "he's off the wall. Doesn't sit still, ever."

But he had progressed with the help of medication and was meeting academic goals, Taylor said, leading to a shift in how he was dropped off at a school that began the week of the shooting.

She said he rarely talks about the shooting. His great-grandfather Calvin Taylor, who now has custody of the child, said he's more likely to talk about the days before the shooting than the incident itself. Deja Taylor was charged with felony child neglect and recklessly leaving a loaded firearm so as to endanger a child, a misdemeanor, in April.

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The boy's family has said the gun, which his mother legally obtained, was kept in a locked box. They couldn't say how he got ahold of it.

"We are not ready to discuss that at this point," Taylor's lawyer James Ellenson told "Good Morning America." "I don't know that any adult knows how he got the gun."

History of violence

A lawsuit Zwerner filed against the school district says the defendants knew the boy “had a history of random violence” at school and at home, including an episode the year before when he “strangled and choked” his kindergarten teacher.

“All Defendants knew that John Doe attacked students and teachers alike, and his motivation to injure was directed toward anyone in his path, both in and out of school, and was not limited to teachers while at the school,” the lawsuit says.

School officials removed the boy from Richneck and sent him to another school for the remainder of the year but allowed him to return to Richneck for first grade in fall 2022, the lawsuit says.

The Newport News school district, which has asked that the case be dismissed. The school district said her injuries are covered by worker's compensation.

"I just truly would like to apologize that ... she [Zwerner] did get hurt," the boy's mother said on "Good Morning America. "We were actually kind of forming a relationship with me having to be in the classroom. And she is really a bright person."

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Zwerner’s attorney, Diane Toscano, told reporters in January that concerned school staff members had warned administrators three times the child had a gun and was threatening other students in the hours before he shot Zwerner. Toscano said the school administration “was paralyzed by apathy” and didn’t call police, remove the boy from class, or lock down the school.

The Newport News school superintendent was fired by the school board after the shooting, and the Richneck Elementary assistant principal resigned. The principal was reassigned to another job within the school district. The board also voted to install metal detectors in every school in the district, beginning with Richneck, and to purchase clear backpacks for all students.

The Newport News school district has asked that Zwerner's $40 million lawsuit against the school system be dismissed. The school district said her injuries are covered by worker's compensation.

More: Virginia school board says teacher shot by 6-year-old should get workers' comp, not $40 million from lawsuit

Contributing: Natalie Neysa Alund and Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mother of Virginia boy who shot teacher is sorry, takes responsibility