Mother of 2021 Oxford High School Shooting Perpetrator Found Guilty on Four Counts of Involuntary Manslaughter
By Nadia El-Yaouti | Posted on February 7, 2024
Photo Source: LA Times via Mandi Wright / Pool Photo
Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of school shooter Ethan Crumbley, was convicted Tuesday on four counts of involuntary manslaughter related to the November 2021 mass shooting at Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, that resulted in the deaths of four students.
Crumbley's case is believed to be the first time a parent has been convicted for their child’s actions as they related to gun violence, specifically school shootings. Prosecutors successfully argued that Crumbley was grossly negligent in providing her then-15-year-old son with a 9 mm handgun, despite knowledge of her son's alarming mental health issues. Ethan Crumbley reportedly used the gun at a shooting range the weekend before turning it on his classmates on November 30, 2021.
On the days leading up to the shooting and on the day of the shooting itself, Crumbley was proven to have ignored her son's mental health issues by failing to get him proper treatment despite the concerns of his teachers and counselor.
During the trial, Crumbley took the stand and argued in her defense that her son did not show signs of being mentally ill aside from his expressed anxiety about school, graduation, and his future.
Crumbley also tried to shift the blame to her husband, arguing that they bought the gun for their son but instructed him that he could only use it at the shooting range. She explained that her husband was responsible for securing and storing the gun. “I just didn’t feel comfortable being in charge of that,” she said of storing the gun. “It was more his thing, so I let him handle that. I didn’t feel comfortable putting the lock thing on it.”
Her testimony also included accounts that she never saw concerning texts her son sent to his friends or alarming entries he wrote in his journal. The texts and journal entries were presented at court and showed that the teenager wrote he saw a “demon” in his home and that he was experiencing “paranoia” because he was hearing voices. One journal entry was especially alarming as the teenager wrote down, "I have zero HELP for my mental problems and it's causing me to shoot up."
Crumbley maintained that she did not know of her son's mental struggles and that he had never asked to be taken to therapy; she also said that she never thought her son would harm others the way he had. “I thought we were pretty close. We would talk. We did a lot of things together. I trusted him, and I felt like I had an open door and he could come to me about anything. I felt as a family the three of us were very close,” Crumbley testified.
The jury consisted of six men and six women, some of whom were gun owners themselves. The unanimous guilty verdict was handed down just after 1:00 pm Tuesday after deliberations began Monday morning.
The guilty verdict could set a new precedent for parental liability if a child engages in acts of gun violence. Crumbley's lawyer, Shannon Smith, noted the danger such a precedent could bring. During closing arguments, she said, "I do wish, more than anything, that this case could bring justice to victims of the shooting, and to the victims of the terrorism that day," adding, "This is not justice. This is not how justice works. This does nothing for people who have lost everything … and it does nothing to (undo) the tragedy that unfolded on Nov. 30."
Others have expressed how this verdict could help society move in the right direction. Nick Suplina, senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety, shared in a statement, “Today’s verdict underscores the important responsibility of parents and gun owners in preventing children from having unsupervised access to deadly weapons.” His statement continues, "Plain and simple, the deadly shooting at Oxford High School in 2021 should have — and could have — been prevented had the Crumbleys not acquired a gun for their 15-year-old son. This decision is an important step forward in ensuring accountability and, hopefully, preventing future tragedies."
Family members of the victims killed were present in court when the verdict was read. One parent, Craig Shilling, whose son Justin lost his life, shared with reporters, “I feel most of all that the cries have been heard, and I feel that this verdict is going to echo throughout every household in the country,” adding, "We all have work now. We all know that we are to be held responsible for anything that we do.”
Crumbley remains held on bond and faces up to 15 years in prison for each count against her. Her sentencing is scheduled for April 9 at 9:00 am.