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Prosecutors launch special investigation into Richneck Elementary School employees' role in the January shooting

While investigators review if school employees' actions contributed to the shooting, the mother of the boy accused in the shooting faces multiple charges.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — As the nation keeps a close eye on the case surrounding the shooting at Richneck Elementary School, investigators are keeping their eyes on school employees.

Newport News Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn requested a special grand jury to investigate if administrators' actions contributed to a 6-year-old boy shooting his teacher, Abby Zwerner.

It comes after the first-grade teacher's attorneys claimed administrators ignored serious warnings that the boy had a gun on the day of the shooting. 

"These activities specifically include investigating whether there were any security failures which contributed to the shooting," Howard Gywnn wrote in his petition filed in court Tuesday. "An investigation is warranted to determine the full scope of any criminal activity that occurred, the circumstances surrounding such activity, and to make such other recommendations as necessary to remedy those security failures in hopes that such a situation never occurs again."

It's a common decision in a high-profile case to request a special grand jury, according to James Duane, a professor with Regent University's School of Law.

Duane said the special grand jury will investigate if negligence played a role in this incident.

He said there is a difference between negligence -- which means a careless mistake or act of inattention results in an injury to another -- and gross negligence, which is a reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others. 

Duane said the decision to charge anyone with a criminal matter, such as gross negligence, comes down to any evidence that may prove school administrators knew the student had a gun on school grounds.

"As far as we are aware, there's no evidence that I've heard of that school division had physically seen the gun," Duane said. "They allegedly received reliable reports from a student that the child had or claimed to have had a gun, but that probably by itself would not justify the filing of criminal charges against them, but we'll have to wait and see."

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew said his department did not receive a call from school administrators until after the shooting happened. School policy states administrators should call authorities if a threat is made against school personnel.

Former Principal Briana Foster-Newton claims no one made her aware of the concerns about a gun that day. Her attorney announced they plan to file a countersuit in response to Abby Zwerner's $40 million lawsuit.

Assistant Principal Ebony Parker has since resigned from her position. 

School board members voted to fire Superintendent Dr. George Parker III just three weeks after the shooting. Interim Superintendent Michelle Mitchel has taken over the position while the school board holds meetings in the search for a new superintendent.

Gwynn requested the special grand jury for a six-month term, which Duane said is a common request in cases like this. He said it could take time for the special grand jury to make a decision if anyone should face new or additional charges.

"The special grand jury may well be asked by the prosecutor's office to make some investigation and make some recommendations of more sweeping reforms that could be required by the school district from this thing from happening before," Duane said.

A grand jury charged the mother of the boy, 25-year-old Deja Taylor, for gross negligence and recklessly leaving a loaded handgun in reach of a child.

Earlier this year, Taylor's attorney, James Ellenson, said his client had the gun secured safely inside her home.

He said Taylor is now expected to turn herself in to Newport News City jail this week.

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