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Michigan school shooter’s mother Jennifer Crumbley found guilty of manslaughter in first case of its kind

In World
February 07, 2024

Jennifer Crumbley, 45, looked down and shook her head slightly as each juror was polled after the verdicts were read.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald hugs Craig Shilling, the father of victim Justin Shilling, after a jury found Jennifer Crumbley guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

On her way out of the courtroom, prosecutor Karen McDonald hugged Craig Shilling, the father of victim Justin Shilling, and the family of Madisyn Baldwin.

“Thank you,” a man whispered to her.

Jennifer and James Crumbley were the first parents in the US to be charged in a mass school shooting committed by their child. James Crumbley faces trial in March.

“The cries have been heard, and I feel this verdict is gonna echo throughout every household in the country,” Craig Shilling told reporters.

“I feel it’s necessary, and I’m happy with the verdict. It’s still a sad situation to be in. It’s gotta stop. It’s an accountability, and this is what we’ve been asking for a long time now,” Shilling said.

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A gag order by the judge prevented McDonald and defence lawyer Shannon Smith from speaking to reporters.

On the morning of November 30, 2021, school staff members were concerned about a violent drawing of a gun, bullet and wounded man, accompanied by desperate phrases, on Ethan Crumbley’s maths assignment. His parents were called to the school for a brief meeting, but they didn’t take the boy home.

A few hours later, Ethan Crumbley pulled a handgun from his backpack and shot 10 students and a teacher. No one had checked the backpack.

The gun was the Sig Sauer 9mm his father had bought with him just four days earlier. Jennifer Crumbley had taken her son to a shooting range that same weekend.

Ethan Crumbley poses for a mugshot in Pontiac, Michigan. Photo: Oakland County Sheriff’s Office via AFP

“You’re the last adult to have possession of that gun,” assistant prosecutor Marc Keast said while cross-examining the mother last week. “You saw your son shoot the last practice round before the [school] shooting on Nov. 30. You saw how he stood … He knew how to use the gun.”

Jennifer Crumbley replied: “Yes, he did.”

Besides 17-year-old Justin Shilling and 17-year old Madisyn Baldwin, Hana St. Juliana, 14, and Tate Myre, 16, were also killed. Seven people were wounded.

Ethan Crumbley, now 17, pleaded guilty to murder and terrorism and is serving a life sentence.

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Jennifer Crumbley told jurors that it was her husband’s job to keep track of the gun. She also said she saw no signs of mental distress in her son.

“We would talk. We did a lot of things together,” she testified. “I trusted him, and I felt I had an open door. He could come to me about anything.”

In a journal found by police, Ethan Crumbley wrote that his parents would not listen to his pleas for help.

“I have zero help for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up the … school,” he wrote.

James Crumbley, father of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, appears in court in Pontiac, Michigan, for his pretrial hearing in March 2022. Photo: TNS

The words with the drawing that prompted a counsellor to call the Crumbleys to the school said: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. The world is dead. My life is useless.”

Prosecutors introduced evidence that Ethan Crumbley texted his mother in spring 2021 about “demons” throwing bowls and other hallucinations.

But she told the jury that it was “just Ethan messing around”.

“I have asked myself if I would have done anything differently. I wouldn’t have. I wish he would have killed us instead,” she testified.

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The jury of six men and six women included people who own guns or grew up with them in their home. The jurors said they could put their opinions about guns aside and serve fairly.

Jennifer Crumbley will get credit for roughly 2½ years in the county jail when she returns to court for sentencing on April 9. The judge will set the minimum prison sentence, based on scoring guidelines and other factors.

It will be up to the Michigan parole board to determine how long she actually stays in prison. The maximum term for involuntary manslaughter is 15 years.

Prosecutors have not said if they will ask for consecutive sentences on the four convictions, which could mean a maximum of 60 years if Judge Cheryl Matthews agrees.

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