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Mother of 6-year-old Richneck shooter indicted by Newport News grand jury

Deja Taylor was charged with felony child neglect and a misdemeanor count of recklessly leaving a firearm that endangers a child.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The mother of the 6-year-old boy who shot a Richneck Elementary School teacher earlier this year was indicted by a grand jury in Newport News Monday, the city's Commonwealth's Attorney's Office announced.

Deja Taylor was charged with felony child neglect and a misdemeanor count of recklessly leaving a firearm that endangers a child.

The boy shot first-grade teacher Abby Zwerner on January 6 inside her classroom at Richneck Elementary School. Police said Taylor legally purchased the gun and her attorney, James Ellenson, has said the gun was secured on a top shelf in her closet and had a trigger lock.

Ellenson said Monday that his client plans to turn herself in later this week. 

"I wish to thank the NN Commonwealth Attorney's office for extending me the courtesy of informing us of the indictments that were returned by the Grand Jury today," Ellenson said in a statement to ABC News. "My client will be turning herself in later this week. More details will follow."

The charges come after an investigation by the Newport News Police Department and the city's Commonwealth's Attorney's Office. The office said it "determined that the facts and the law" support charges against Taylor for those two offenses.

"Every criminal case is unique in its facts, and these faces support these charges, but our investigation into the shooting continues," Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn wrote.

Gwynn also announced that he filed a petition in Newport News Circuit Court to create a Special Grand Jury, which will continue an investigation into "any security issues that may have contributed to this shooting."

The investigation is set to continue until it is determined whether or not anyone else involved in the situation will face charges as well. 

Virginia's law on felony child neglect says any parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the care of a child "whose willful act or omission in the care of such child was so gross, wanton, and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life" is guilty of a Class 6 felony. The charge is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The misdemeanor charge says it’s against Virginia law to "recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any child under the age of fourteen." That charge is punishable by a maximum of one year in jail.

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew has repeatedly characterized the shooting as "intentional." He said there was no warning and no struggle before the child pointed the gun at Zwerner and fired one round, striking her in the hand and chest. 

Zwerner, 25, hustled her students out of the classroom before being rushed to the hospital, where she stayed for nearly two weeks. 

Ellenson told The Associated Press in January that he understood the gun was in Taylor’s closet on a shelf well over 6 feet (1.8 meters) high and had a trigger lock that required a key.

Monday's indictment comes in the aftermath of increased security measures at schools across Hampton Roads, as well as a $40 million lawsuit that was filed on behalf of Zwerner against multiple administrators within Newport News Public Schools for alleged negligence. 

“There were failures in accountability at multiple levels that led to Abby being shot and almost killed," said Zwerner's attorney, Diane Toscano. "Today’s announcement addresses but one of those failures. It has been three months of investigation and still so many unanswered questions remain. Our lawsuit makes clear that we believe the school division violated state law, and we are pursuing this in civil court. We will not allow school leaders to escape accountability for their role in this tragedy.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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