Michigan school shooter's mother convicted of manslaughter

This is the first time in U.S. history that a parent has been convicted of involuntary manslaughter for a mass school shooting committed by their child

February 07, 2024 02:34 am | Updated 02:34 am IST

Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of Oxford, Michigan high school shooter Ethan Crumbley, enters the court to hear the verdict just before the jury found her guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter on February 6, 2024 at Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Michigan. Photo: Getty Images via AFP

Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of Oxford, Michigan high school shooter Ethan Crumbley, enters the court to hear the verdict just before the jury found her guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter on February 6, 2024 at Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Michigan. Photo: Getty Images via AFP

A Michigan jury on Feb. 6 convicted the mother of a teenager who fatally shot four classmates at a high school near Detroit of manslaughter after prosecutors argued she bore responsibility because she and her husband gave their son a gun and ignored warning signs of violence.

Jennifer Crumbley, 45, was found guilty after a trial believed to be the first time that a parent faced a manslaughter charge in the United States stemming from a school shooting by a child. She faced four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each student killed at Oxford High School in the 2021 shootings, and was convicted on all four.

She showed little reaction to the verdict in the courtroom.

Jurors had begun deliberating on Feb. 5 morning.

Manslaughter carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. An April 9 sentencing date was scheduled. Her husband, James Crumbley, 47, is set to face his own trial on manslaughter charges starting March 5.

The couple’s son, Ethan, was 15 at the time of the shooting with a semi-automatic handgun. He pleaded guilty in 2022 to four counts of first-degree murder and other charges and was sentenced to life in prison without parole in December.

The United States, a country with persistent gun violence, has experienced a series of school shootings over the years, often carried out by current or former students.

Gun safety experts have said they hope this case spurs parents who own guns to better secure weapons, noting that government research shows three-fourths of school shooters in recent years obtained the firearms they used in their own homes.

Oakland County prosecutors argued during the trial that Jennifer Crumbley, even though she did not pull the trigger, stored the gun and ammunition in a negligent manner and should be held criminally responsible for the deaths. They said she and her husband knew Ethan was mentally in a “downward spiral” and posed a danger to others but allowed him access to firearms, including the 9mm pistol that was purchased as his Christmas present and was used to kill his classmates.

Shannon Smith, the attorney for Jennifer Crumbley, argued that she was not responsible for buying or storing the gun used by her son in the shootings, that she had no real warning signs that he would kill his classmates and that she could not have reasonably foreseen that the crime would take place.

Jennifer Crumbley testified in her own defence, saying her husband was responsible for securely storing firearms in the family home and that while her son had been anxious about getting into college and what he would do with his life, she did not think his problems merited seeing a psychiatrist.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald told jurors during closing arguments on Feb. 2 that Jennifer Crumbley had “done the unthinkable”.

Smith during her closing arguments urged jurors to find her client not guilty because her son’s crimes were “unforeseeable”.

“Can every parent really be responsible for everything that their children do?” Ms. Smith asked.

Josh Horwitz, co-director of the Center for Gun Violence Solutions, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said the conviction showed that “the jury understood that in today’s America, purchasing a handgun for a troubled teenager was grossly negligent and put the community at risk”.

“There is no excuse for Ms. Crumbley’s actions, and had she chosen a different course, lives could have been saved,” Mr. Horwitz added. “At a minimum, guns must be stored locked and unloaded, safe storage saves lives.”

In Michigan, people under 18 are allowed to have a gun only when hunting or doing target-practice at a shooting range with an adult, and other limited circumstances.

‘Blood everywhere’

According to prosecutors, James Crumbley purchased the handgun used in the crime four days before the Nov. 30, 2021, shootings. On the morning of the shootings, a teacher discovered drawings by Ethan Crumbley depicting a handgun, a bullet and a bleeding figure next to the words “Blood everywhere,” “My life is useless,” and “The thoughts won’t stop — help me.”

The Crumbleys, summoned to the school that morning, were told that Ethan needed counselling and they needed to take him home, according to prosecutors. But the couple resisted taking their son home and did not search his backpack or ask him about the gun, prosecutors said.

Jennifer Crumbley challenged that account, telling jurors that she, her husband and teachers mutually agreed that Ethan could remain in school that day, and that she did not think he posed a danger to fellow students.

Ethan Crumbley was returned to class and later walked out of a bathroom with the gun and began firing, according to prosecutors.

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