PONTIAC: A Michigan jury on Tuesday 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.
The trial of Jennifer Crumbley, 45, was believed to be the first in which a parent faced a manslaughter charge in the US stemming from a school shooting by their child. She faced four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each of the victims at Oxford High School in the 2021 shootings. Jurors began deliberating on Monday.
Her husband, James Crumbley, 47, is set to face his own trial on manslaughter charges in March.
The couple’s son, Ethan, was 15 at the time of the shooting at Oxford High School involving 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 US, a country with persistent gun violence, has experienced a series of school shootings over the years, often carried out by current or former students.
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 there were 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?” Smith asked.
Gun safety experts have said they hope the Crumbley trials serve as a wake-up call for parents to better secure weapons at home. About 75% of school shooters obtained the guns used in attacks from their own homes, according to government research.
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 counseling 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.