In the case of Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of Michigan school-shooter Ethan Crumbley, the answer is yes. You may be thinking, how can we as parents be held responsible for a heinous act of violence committed by our teenager? Well, this is an exceptionally unusual situation. On February 6th, 2024, Jennifer Crumbley was found guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter for her part in her son’s deadly 2021 attack on his fellow students at Oxford High School. Madiyson Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Justin Shilling, 17; and Hana St. Juliana, 14; were all tragically taken too soon at the hands of their classmate, then 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley. In December 2023, Ethan was sentenced to life without parole for the brutal murder of his peers, some shot execution style, more than once. Ethan is the first minor to receive an original sentence of life without the possibility of parole after a 2012 US Supreme Court ruling found that sentencing a child to life in prison (without parole) could be “considered excessive”. Not for Ethan Crumbley, though. He self-admittedly wanted to go down as the biggest school shooter in history, turning the happy lives of so many families into a hell on earth. Could this have been prevented? No one can ever say for certain, but we truly believe that Ethan Crumbley could have been stopped.
So many students, parents and lawmakers are tired of feeling like they are getting nowhere when it comes to discussing gun laws. So how did Ethan Crumbley gain access to a gun, even after he told his parents he needed mental help? Yes, Ethan admitted to his parents he was unwell, in case you weren’t aware or familiar with this unspeakable story. He was a lonely teen boy who had a sick fascination with guns. Text messages showed that months prior to the Oxford rampage, Ethan texted his mother that he was experiencing paranoia and thought he was seeing a “demon” in his house, throwing objects at him. He thought he was hallucinating. Jennifer Crumbley never texted her son back that day, even after he sent one more text, begging for a response. It was later revealed that she was “too busy” having an extramarital affair, as was her husband James (whose trial begins in March of 2024). Ethan also told a friend he was having a mental breakdown but said that his father told him to “suck it up” and his mother just chuckled at him. The school administration found alarming gun drawings by Ethan with the phrase, “The thoughts won’t stop, help me.” They immediately called in Jennifer and James and told them they needed to take their son out of school ASAP and get help or counseling for him. Jennifer and James didn’t do anything- Ethan remained in school until November 30th, 2021, when he carried out the unthinkable. Sadly, it was concluded that a gun was given to Ethan by his parents four days before the shooting occurred. Not only did they knowingly provide their unstable son a gun; they carelessly ignored his cries for help, his obvious mental illness, the disturbing drawings he crafted, and desperate plea from the school to seek help for their troubled teen. There is no doubt in my mind that these parents should also be held liable.
Judge Michael Riordan noted that this case is different- it was very clear that Ethan Crumbley was struggling with mental illness, and his parents appeared to be too selfish and busy with their own lives to bother. Instead, they gave him a gun. “Our legal system does not, nor should it, criminally punish people for subpar, odd, or eccentric parenting, or require that children be deprived of any instrumentality that otherwise is legal to possess and use. Moreover, I suspect that parents do not reasonably assume, as a matter of course, that their children will commit violent crimes. However, before us is the unusual case. EC was extraordinarily troubled, yet defendants nonetheless provided him with a handgun and, despite having discrete, disturbing evidence that EC contemplated harming others, did nothing when confronted with that evidence,” stated Judge Riordan via CNN.
Parents everywhere should heed with caution- listen to your children. Don’t ignore their cries for help. Don’t purchase a gun for your 15-year-old (period) who claims to have mental breakdowns, hallucinations and “sees demons." Students and teens: if you see someone who appears to be lonely, reach out to them. Let them know that they are not alone. Four precious lives may have been saved if Jennifer and James Crumbley acted responsibly.
Jennifer Crumbley’s trial was said to be an “unprecedented and landmark trial” since a parent has never been criminally charged with anything in connection to their child committing a school-shooting. Jennifer Crumbley faces up to 15 years per count in prison.
If you have been impacted by incidents of mass violence, or are experiencing emotional distress related to incidents of mass violence, you can call or text Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 for support.