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Jury finds school shooter’s mother guilty of manslaughter

Crumbley’s conviction makes her the first parent in the U.S. to be held responsible for a child carrying out a school attack.
 
Jennifer Crumbley walks into the Oakland County courtroom of Judge Cheryl Matthews before being found guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday in Pontiac, Mich. It was a first-of-its-kind trial to determine whether she had any responsibility for the deaths of four students shot by her son, Ethan Crumbley, in 2021. Prosecutors say Crumbley was grossly negligent when she failed to tell Oxford High School that the family had guns, including a 9 mm handgun that her then-15-year-old son, Ethan Crumbley, used at a shooting range on the weekend before the Nov. 30, 2021, attack.
Jennifer Crumbley walks into the Oakland County courtroom of Judge Cheryl Matthews before being found guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday in Pontiac, Mich. It was a first-of-its-kind trial to determine whether she had any responsibility for the deaths of four students shot by her son, Ethan Crumbley, in 2021. Prosecutors say Crumbley was grossly negligent when she failed to tell Oxford High School that the family had guns, including a 9 mm handgun that her then-15-year-old son, Ethan Crumbley, used at a shooting range on the weekend before the Nov. 30, 2021, attack. [ MANDI WRIGHT | AP ]
Published Feb. 6|Updated Feb. 6

PONTIAC, Mich. — A Michigan jury convicted a school shooter’s mother of involuntary manslaughter Tuesday in the killings of four students in 2021, making her the first parent in the U.S. to be held responsible for a child carrying out a school attack.

Prosecutors say Jennifer Crumbley had a duty under Michigan state law to prevent her son, who was 15 at the time, from harming others. She was accused of failing to secure a gun and ammunition at home and failing to get help for Ethan Crumbley’s mental health.

The guilty verdicts — one for each student slain at Oxford High School — were returned after roughly 11 hours of jury deliberations.

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

Defendant Jennifer Crumbley, left, and defense attorney Shannon Smith react to the jury's unanimous verdict of guilty of involuntary manslaughter on all counts at the conclusion of Crumbley's trial in the courtroom of Judge Cheryl Matthews at Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Mich., on Tuesday.
Defendant Jennifer Crumbley, left, and defense attorney Shannon Smith react to the jury's unanimous verdict of guilty of involuntary manslaughter on all counts at the conclusion of Crumbley's trial in the courtroom of Judge Cheryl Matthews at Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Mich., on Tuesday. [ DANIEL MEARS | AP ]

“We all know that this was one of the hardest things you’ve ever done,” Oakland County Judge Cheryl Matthews told the jury.

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.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, right, shakes hands with the parents of Oxford High School victims after Jennifer Crumbley was found guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter in an Oakland County courtroom on Tuesday in Pontiac, Mich. Prosecutors say Crumbley was grossly negligent when she failed to tell Oxford High School that the family had guns, including a 9 mm handgun that her son, Ethan Crumbley, used at a shooting range on the weekend before the Nov. 30, 2021, attack.
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, right, shakes hands with the parents of Oxford High School victims after Jennifer Crumbley was found guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter in an Oakland County courtroom on Tuesday in Pontiac, Mich. Prosecutors say Crumbley was grossly negligent when she failed to tell Oxford High School that the family had guns, including a 9 mm handgun that her son, Ethan Crumbley, used at a shooting range on the weekend before the Nov. 30, 2021, attack. [ MANDI WRIGHT | AP ]

Jennifer and James Crumbley were the first parents in the U.S. 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 for a long time now,” he said.

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

Craig Shilling, left, father of Justin Shilling, who was killed in the Oxford School shooting in 2021, shakes hands with Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Keast after Jennifer Crumbley, mother of shooter Ethan Crumbley, was found guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the Oakland County courtroom of Cheryl Matthews on Tuesday in Pontiac, Mich.
Craig Shilling, left, father of Justin Shilling, who was killed in the Oxford School shooting in 2021, shakes hands with Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Keast after Jennifer Crumbley, mother of shooter Ethan Crumbley, was found guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the Oakland County courtroom of Cheryl Matthews on Tuesday in Pontiac, Mich. [ MANDI WRIGHT | AP ]

On the morning of Nov. 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 math assignment. His parents were called to the school for a brief meeting, but they didn’t take the boy home.

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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 9 mm his father had purchased with him just four days earlier. Jennifer Crumbley had taken her son to a shooting range that same weekend.

Outside the courthouse, the jury forewoman, who declined to give her name, said jurors were influenced by evidence that Jennifer Crumbley was the last adult to possess the gun. That “really hammered it home,” she told reporters.

Indeed, the jury saw images of Jennifer Crumbley leaving the shooting range with the gun in a box.

“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,” assistant prosecutor Marc Keast said while cross-examining the mother last week.

“Yes, he did,” Jennifer Crumbley replied.

In her closing argument Friday, McDonald said she filed the unprecedented charges because of the “unique, egregious” facts leading up to the massacre. School officials insisted they would not have agreed to keep Ethan Crumbley on campus that day if the parents had shared information about the new gun, which the boy on social media called his “beauty.”

The words with the disturbing drawing said: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. The world is dead. My life is useless.”

“He literally drew a picture of what he was going to do,” McDonald said. “It says, ‘Help me.’”

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.

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.

Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, a teenager who pleaded guilty to killing four students in a shooting at Oxford High School in 2021, appear in court for a preliminary examination on involuntary manslaughter charges in Rochester Hills, Mich., Feb. 8, 2022.
Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, a teenager who pleaded guilty to killing four students in a shooting at Oxford High School in 2021, appear in court for a preliminary examination on involuntary manslaughter charges in Rochester Hills, Mich., Feb. 8, 2022. [ PAUL SANCYA | AP ]

In a journal found by police, Ethan Crumbley wrote that his parents wouldn’t 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.

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.”

Related: Michigan teen discussed killing students in video recorded before school shooting, official says

“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.

The jury of six men and six women included people who own guns or grew up with them in their homes.

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.

By ED WHITE and COREY WILLIAMS, Associated Press.