In November 2021, a 15-year-old child brought a gun into school; he killed four students and injured another seven. He pled guilty to 24 criminal charges including first-degree murder and terrorism.
His name is Ethan Crumbley, and he admitted to killing those other children. Jennifer Crumbley is his mother. She didn’t shoot anyone, but a jury found her guilty today of involuntary manslaughter – a verdict that is likely to set an entirely new precedent in criminal law.
Per ABC News, it took a jury 11 hours of deliberation before rendering the guilty verdict. James Crumbley, Ethan’s father, has his own trial coming up in March; he, too, faces charges of involuntary manslaughter.
Why did Jennifer Crumbley face criminal charges for her son’s actions?
The State of Michigan argued that Jennifer Crumbley’s actions (or inaction, if you believe the prosecutor) contributed to the deadly school shooting, and that had Jennifer acted differently, that shooting could have been avoided. From NBC News’ coverage:
In an effort to determine to what extent a parent should be held accountable for the actions of their child, jurors in Oakland County examined more than 400 pieces of evidence, including text messages and photos from Crumbley’s cellphone, and dramatic video of the shooting spree, which left many in the courtroom visibly shaken.
The prosecution called more than 20 witnesses, including law enforcement and school staff, while the defense brought in just one: the defendant.
To prove its case, the prosecution attempted to portray Crumbley as a neglectful mother, who cared more about her hobbies and carrying on an extramarital affair than spending time with her son. Then, when she and her husband gifted their son a semi-automatic handgun in the days before the shooting, prosecutors pointed out that neither of them properly stored it.
On the same day as the shooting, when the Crumbleys were earlier summoned to the school because of a disturbing drawing of a gun made by their son, the parents didn’t tell school officials he had access to a weapon or take him home.
There is quite a bit to unpack here. For a moment, let us put aside the “dramatic video of the shooting spree” and the extramarital affair, both of which are designed to tug at your heartstrings. Instead, let us focus on three specific facts:
- Jennifer and Jason bought the gun. According to CBS News, the gun was an SP 2022 Sig Sauer 9mm. Under Michigan law, you have to be at least 18 years old to purchase a gun, which means Ethan could not legally purchase that firearm. A person under the age of 18 cannot possess a gun in public, but can possess a gun, so long as he or she is traveling to or from a shooting range, at said range, or while hunting. (All minors must be accompanied by a legal adult while hunting). Note that “possession” in this sense does not mean “own;” it simply means to have in one’s possession.
- Neither Jennifer nor Jason properly stored the gun. In 2023, Michigan put a law into effect that “requires firearm owners to store their firearms in a locked container, such as a safe or lockbox, or unloaded with a locking device when there is a reasonable chance that a minor is or is likely to be on the premises.” That law was not in effect in 2021. However, as Ethan could not legally own a gun, it should have fallen to Jason or Jennifer to store that firearm safely.
- Neither Jennifer nor Jason chose to remove their son from school on the day of the shooting. There is no law that requires parents to take their children home from school, and no one from the school specifically asked the parents to remove Ethan from school, though Shawn Hopkins, a counselor at the high school, testified that he “said that if the parents didn’t get their son their son the therapy he needed for his mental health within 48 hours, he planned to contact Child Protective Services.” Ethan asked to go back to his classes and the school let him because there was no disciplinary action taken against him; as such, he could not be removed from the school.
These are the facts of this case. Everything else – would he have shot his fellow classmates if his mom wasn’t cheating on his father? Would someone from the school have followed protocol and searched his backpack or locker if they knew he had access to a gun? – is pure speculation.
Did the jury reach the right decision?
If you buy your 15-year-old child a car because you know he or she will need one to get to work and school next year, and then he or she takes the keys, sneaks the car out of the house, and runs over four people, you are responsible. Civilly responsible, but responsible. Same thing if you allow an obviously intoxicated person to drive away from your home. You can be held liable in civil court.
If you’re driving a friend home and he asks you to stop at a local bank, and then he holds up that bank, you can face criminal charges for robbery or burglary (depending). If he kills someone, you can be charged with murder, too.
So yes: those parents are responsible. They purchased a handgun for their underage child and did nothing to ensure that he could not access that gun in a safe and controlled manner.
But that does not mean we have to feel good about the precedent this sets in criminal cases. We’re not sure it’s just to send a woman to prison for up to 15 years because she didn’t recognize that her son was about the stage a school shooting. We don’t know if it’s fair to find a woman guilty because she didn’t believe her son could be a killer.
But technically, yes – it’s legal to do both. And heaven help all of us with the can of worms this case has likely just opened.
Carey Law Office offers aggressive defense strategies for clients facing criminal charges. With offices in Bowie and Dunkirk, we proudly serve all of Calvert County and the surrounding regions. To schedule a consultation, please call or contact us today.
My name is Joe Carey, and I am the founder and principal attorney of the Carey Law Office. I have lived in Maryland my entire life. I grew up in a small town in Prince George’s County and, with the help of my partner in life, Nancy, I raised my family here: three exceptional children (a son and two daughters), and two goofy, spoiled black Labrador Retrievers. Learn More