Michigan teenage killer’s parents sentenced to at least 10 years in prison

9 April 2024, 22:44

School Shooting Parents Convicted
School Shooting Parents Convicted. Picture: PA

Jennifer and James Crumbley are the first parents convicted in a US mass school shooting.

The parents of a Michigan school gunman were each sentenced to at least 10 years in prison on Tuesday for failing to take steps that could have prevented the killing of four students in 2021.

Jennifer and James Crumbley are the first parents convicted in a US mass school shooting.

They were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter after prosecutors presented evidence of an unsecured gun at home and indifference toward the teenager’s mental health.

Ethan Crumbley drew dark images of a gun, a bullet and a wounded man on a maths assignment, accompanied by despondent phrases. Staff at Oxford High School did not demand that he go home but were surprised when the Crumbleys did not volunteer it during a brief meeting.

Later that day, on November 30, 2021, the 15-year-old pulled a handgun from his backpack and began shooting at the school. Ethan, now 17, is serving a life sentence for murder and other crimes.

School Shooting Parents Convicted
Jennifer Crumbley stares at her husband James Crumbley during sentencing at Oakland County Circuit Court in Michigan on Tuesday (Clarence Tabb Jr/Detroit News via AP)

Before sentencing, family members of the students killed in the shooting asked a judge to sentence the parents to 10 years, condemning them as failures whose selfishness led to four deaths and a community tragedy.

“The blood of our children is on your hands, too,” said Craig Shilling, wearing a hoodie with the image of son Justin Shilling on his chest.

Nicole Beausoleil, the mother of Madisyn Baldwin, said: “While you were purchasing a gun for your son and leaving it unlocked, I was helping her finish her college essays.”

Five deputies in the courtroom stood watch over the Crumbleys and more lined the walls.

Prosecutors said “tragically simple actions” by both parents could have stopped the catastrophe.

The couple had separate trials in Oakland County court, 40 miles (64km) north of Detroit. Jurors heard how the teenager had drawn a gun, a bullet and a gunshot victim on a school assignment, accompanied by the phrases: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. My life is useless. Blood everywhere.”

Ethan told a counsellor he was sad — a grandmother had died and his only friend suddenly had moved away — but said the drawing reflected only his interest in creating video games.

The Crumbleys attended a meeting at the school that lasted less than 15 minutes. They did not mention that the gun resembled one James Crumbley, 47, had purchased just four days earlier — a Sig Sauer 9 mm that Ethan had described on social media as his “beauty”.

His parents declined to take him home, choosing instead to return to work and accepting a list of mental health providers. School staff said Ethan could stay on campus. A counsellor, Shawn Hopkins, said he believed it would be safer for the boy than possibly being alone at home.

No one, however, checked Ethan’s backpack. He pulled the gun out later that day and killed four students — Tate Myre, Hana St Juliana, Shilling and Baldwin — and wounded seven other people.

There was no trial testimony from specialists about Ethan’s state of mind. But the judge, over defence objections, allowed the jury to see excerpts from his journal.

“I have zero help for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up the … school,” he wrote. “I want help but my parents don’t listen to me so I can’t get any help.”

Asked about Ethan reporting hallucinations months before the shooting, Jennifer Crumbley, 46, told jurors he was simply “messing around”.

At the close of James Crumbley’s trial, prosecutor Karen McDonald demonstrated how a cable lock, found in a package at home, could have secured the gun.

“Ten seconds,” Ms McDonald said, “of the easiest, simplest thing.”

Judge Cheryl Matthews said: “These convictions are not about poor parenting. These convictions confirm repeated acts, or lack of acts, that could have halted an oncoming runaway train.

“About repeatedly ignoring things that would make a reasonable person feel the hair on the back of their neck stand up.

“Opportunity knocked over and over again — louder and louder — and was ignored. No one answered.”

Defence lawyers asked that the Crumbleys be spared a prison term, noting they have already served nearly two and a half years in jail after failing to meet a 500,000-dollar (£393,875) bond after their arrest.

The Crumbleys will be eligible for parole after serving 10 years in custody and will get credit for the jail time. If parole is denied, they cannot be held longer than 15 years.

Before being sentenced, James Crumbley insisted he did not know his son was deeply troubled.

“My heart is really broken for everybody involved … I have cried for you and the loss of your children more times than I can count,” he said.

Jennifer Crumbley began her remarks by expressing her “deepest sorrow” about the shooting. She also said her comment at her trial about not doing anything differently was “completely misunderstood”.

“My son did seem so normal. I didn’t have a reason to do anything different,” she said. “With the benefit of hindsight and information I have now, my answer would be drastically different.”

She blamed the school for not giving her the “bigger picture” about Ethan: sleeping in class, watching a video of a mass shooting, writing negative thoughts about his family.

“The prosecution has tried to mold us into the type of parents society wants to believe are so horrible only a school or mass shooter could be bred from,” Jennifer Crumbley said. “We were good parents. We were the average family.”

The judge will decide later whether the Crumbleys will be allowed to have contact with their son while the three are in separate state prisons, though Ms McDonald said the Corrections Department typically prohibits communication between co-defendants.

Defence lawyers said the Crumbleys have a constitutional right to be a family. But Ms McDonald wondered about the parents of the victims.

“The parents in that courtroom have been deprived of their constitutional right to be parents, and that matters,” she told reporters.

By Press Association

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