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Michigan school shooter’s mother to stand trial for manslaughter in 4 student deaths

By ED WHITE, Associated Press
Published: January 23, 2024, 8:42am

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — The mother of a teenager who committed a mass school shooting in Michigan is headed to trial on involuntary manslaughter charges in an unusual effort to pin criminal responsibility on his parents for the deaths of four students.

Jennifer and James Crumbley are not accused of knowing their son planned to kill fellow students at Oxford High School in 2021. But prosecutors said they made a gun accessible to Ethan Crumbley, ignored his mental health needs and declined to take him home when confronted with his violent drawings at school on the day of the attack.

Involuntary manslaughter has been “well-defined for ages, and its elements are definite and plain: gross negligence causing death,” assistant prosecutor Joseph Shada said in a court filing.

More than 200 people appeared Tuesday at Oakland County court, 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Detroit, to begin the jury selection process in Jennifer Crumbley’s trial. James Crumbley will face a separate trial in March. In December, Ethan was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to murder, terrorism and other crimes.

It’s a notable case: The Crumbleys are the first parents to be charged in a mass U.S. school shooting. The mother of a 6-year-old Virginia boy who wounded his teacher with a gun was recently sentenced to two years in prison for child neglect.

“I think prosecutors are feeling pressure when these weapon-related offenses occur,” said Eve Brensike Primus, who teaches criminal procedure at the University of Michigan Law School. “People are outraged, and they’re looking for someone to take responsibility for it.”

There’s no dispute that James Crumbley, 47, bought a gun with Ethan at his side four days before the shooting — the teen called it, “my new beauty.” Jennifer Crumbley, 45, took him to a shooting range and described the outing on Instagram as a “mom and son day.”

A day before the shooting, the school informed Jennifer Crumbley that Ethan, who was 15, was looking at ammunition on his phone. “I’m not mad,” she texted him. “You have to learn not to get caught.”

Defense attorneys insist the tragedy was not foreseeable by the parents. They liken the charges to trying to put a “square peg into a round hole.”

“After every school shooting, the media and those affected are quick to point to so-called ‘red flags’ that were missed by those in the shooter’s life,” Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman said in an unsuccessful effort to get the Michigan Supreme Court to dismiss the charges. “But the truth of the matter is one cannot predict the unimaginable.”

At his sentencing, Ethan, now 17, told a judge that he was a “really bad person” who could not stop himself.

“They did not know and I did not tell them what I planned to do, so they are not at fault,” he said of his parents.

A few hours before the shooting, the Crumbleys were summoned to Oxford High School. Ethan had drawn violent images on a math assignment with the message: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”

The parents were told to get him into counseling, but they declined to remove him from school and left campus after less than 30 minutes, according to investigators. Ethan had brought a gun from home that day, Nov. 30, 2021, though no one checked his backpack.

The shooter surrendered to police after killing four students and wounding seven more people. The parents were charged a few days later, but they weren’t easy to find. Police said they were hiding in a building in Detroit.

The Crumbleys have been in jail for more than two years awaiting trial, unable to afford a $500,000 bond. Involuntary manslaughter in Michigan carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

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