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Michigan mother of school shooter guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter

Rebecca Barnabi
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After seven days of testimony in Pontiac, Mich., a jury has found a mother of a school shooter guilty of involuntary manslaughter for crimes that her son committed in November 2021.

Ethan Robert Crumbley, 15, shot and killed four students and injured seven with a handgun at Oxford High School on November 30, 2021. He was arrested, charged as an adult for 24 crimes and plead guilty in October 2022. He was sentenced to life without parole with an additional 24 years in December 2023.

His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, were charged on December 3, 2023, with involuntary manslaughter for their failure to secure the handgun. They did not appear for arraignment and became subjects of a manhunt by U.S. Marshals until they were apprehended and arrested in Detroit.

Jennifer Crumbley, 45, faces 60 years in prison after yesterday’s conviction in a Pontiac courtroom where the jury deliberated for 11 hours. She was convicted of four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Her son shot and killed Madisyn Baldwin, 17, Tate Myre, 16, Justin Shilling, 17, and Hana St. Juliana, 14.

“We all know that this is one of the hardest things you’ve ever done,” Judge Cheryl Matthews of the Oakland County Circuit Court told jurors at the courthouse, as reported by the New York Times.

Jennifer Crumbley will be sentenced April 9, 2024. James Crumbley, 47, will face a jury of his peers in March.

According to the New York Times, parents of children who committed mass school shootings have plead guilty in other states in recent months to reckless conduct or neglect.

Karen D. McDonald, the Oakland County prosecutor, said after Crumbley’s charges were filed that charging the couple with manslaughter was a gut judgment. She received opposition from some members of her staff on the decision. However, her closing argument Friday revealed that the charges reflect Crumbley’s negligence and the crime that came from her negligence as a parent. Crumbley was guilty of “failing to exercise ordinary care when the smallest tragically simple thing could have prevented” a disaster.

The handgun was a gift to Ethan from his parents. His mother was with him at a shooting range days before the mass shooting at Oxford High. Hours before the shooting, the Crumbleys met with school officials regarding what Ethan wrote on a math worksheet such as the phrase “blood everywhere.” Ethan was allowed to remain at school and his backpack, which already contained the pistol, was not searched.

In April 2021, Ethan texted his mother with complaints of insomnia and paranoia. He thought the family’s home was haunted and he heard voices. A journal of Ethan’s found at the school contained his plan for bloodshed and drawings of guns, as well as his pleas for help with his mental health. “My parents won’t listen to me about help or a therapist,” Ethan wrote.

Prosecutors in the trial focused on firearm access, and shared messages that suggested Jennifer Crumbley’s attention was focused on her two horses and an extramarital affair.

“As a parent, you spend your whole life trying to protect your child from other dangers,” Jennifer Crumbley said. “You never would think you have to protect your child from harming somebody else.”

Jennifer Crumbley’s defense attorney painted her as a “hypervigilant mother” and a mother attentive to Ethan’s needs. But even a mother cannot predict the future.

“I am asking that you find Jennifer Crumbley not guilty,” defense attorney Shannon Smith on Friday said to the jury. “Not just for Jennifer Crumbley, but for every mother who’s out there doing the best they can, who could easily be in her shoes.”

University of Michigan Law School Professor Ekow N. Yankah said Crumbley’s verdict may affect other trials.

“We pay attention to spectacular cases,” he said, “and we don’t pay attention to how much they change the law in nonspectacular cases — how many plea bargains, how many people will spend more time in prison because they won’t want to risk a guilty verdict like this.”

Smith argued during the trial how parenting could be a messy and unpredictable job.

“I think there are going to be a lot of parents out there who think: If I have a troubled kid, and I’m doing my best, at what point is his or her behavior no longer my responsibility?” Yankah said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.