Parents of the Michigan teen who shot and killed four schoolmates in 2021 were sentenced to at least 10 years in prison

Shooter Ethan Crumbley’s mother and father left a gun within reach and disregarded warning signs about their son’s mental health

María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo
Ethan Crumbley y sus padres, Jennifer y James Robert
The mugshots of Ethan Crumbley and his parents Jennifer and James Robert Crumbley.OAKLAND COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE (via REUTERS)

On Tuesday, the parents of the teenager who shot and killed four fellow students at his Michigan school in 2021 were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 to 15 years for failing to take actions that could have prevented the killing.

Jennifer and James Crumbley are the first parents in the US to be convicted for their responsibility in a mass shooting perpetrated by a minor in their care, in this case at the school he attended (the usual pattern in such cases is for the shooter to be a student or alumnus of the school where the shooting takes place). Both were convicted of involuntary manslaughter on March 15, after prosecutors presented evidence of the existence that the weapon was improperly stored in their home, as well as their indifference or at least inattention to their son’s mental health. According to prosecutors, “tragically simple actions” such as keeping the gun locked up could have prevented the shooting. The couple stood trial separately in Oakland County Court, 40 miles north of Detroit.

Their son Ethan Crumbley — the shooter — had drawn dark images of a gun, a bullet and a wounded man on a math assignment, along with phrases expressing despondency. Staff at Oxford High School, the school he attended and where the shooting took place, did not require him to go home, but they were surprised when the Crumbleys did not volunteer to remove him during a brief meeting with teachers in which they were informed of their son’s disturbing signs.

That same day, on Nov. 30, 2021, the 15-year-old pulled a gun from his backpack and began shooting at the school. After pleading guilty at trial in 2022, Ethan, now 17, is serving life in prison for four counts of murder and other crimes.

During the trial, testimony from the parents of the four victims was heard, which proved decisive in convincing the jury of the Crumbleys’ guilt. They all asked the judge to sentence Ethan’s parents to 10 years, branding them as failures whose selfishness led to four deaths and a community tragedy.

“The blood of our children is on your hands,” said Craig Shilling, who wore a hoodie with his son Justin Shilling’s image on his chest, AP reports. “Not only did your son kill my daughter, but you both did as well. While you were purchasing a gun for your son and leaving it unlocked, I was helping her finish her college essays,” Nicole Beausoleil, Madisyn Baldwin’s mother, said as she looked at James and Jennifer Crumbley in the face.

Alarming signs that no one saw

“The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. My life is useless. Blood everywhere,” Ethan wrote in his math notebook, along with drawings of a gun, a bullet and a gunshot victim. Ethan told a school counselor he was sad; his grandmother had died, and his only friend had suddenly moved away. But he claimed the drawing only reflected his interest in the world of video games.

The Crumbleys were summoned to a meeting at the school that lasted less than 15 minutes. They failed to mention that the gun their son drew resembled the one that James Crumbley, 47, had purchased just four days earlier: a Sig Sauer 9mm that the teenager had described on social media as “his beauty.”

After the meeting, the parents refused to take their son home, opting to return to work and agreeing to a list of mental health services provided by the school. The faculty agreed to let Ethan stay there, as one of the school counselors felt that it would be safer for the young man to remain at the school than to stay home alone. But no one checked his backpack. That same day, he pulled out his gun and killed four students and wounded seven others with it.

At the trial, there was no testimony from specialists about Ethan’s mental state. But the judge, over the defense’s objections, allowed the jury to see excerpts from his diary. “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.”

When asked if Ethan had experienced hallucinations months before the shooting, Jennifer Crumbley, 46, told jurors that he was simply “messing around.” This Tuesday, before the sentence was handed down, she expressed her “deepest sorrow” and said she’d had no idea her son was capable of killing.

“My husband and I used to say we had the perfect kid... 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 also said: “Never think that this could not happen to you. The prosecution has tried to mold us into the type of horrible parents that only a mass or school shooter could be bred from.”

During the trial, the prosecutor demonstrated how a simple padlock could have secured the gun.

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