Jennifer Crumbley

Jennifer Crumbley arrives to hear a jury find her guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter on February 6, 2024 at Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Michigan.

(Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

In 'Send-a-Message Verdict,' Jury Finds School Shooter's Mother Guilty

"When adult gun owners allow children unsupervised access to unsecured weapons, it's criminal negligence—not an accident."

Gun control advocates and at least one victim's father on Tuesday welcomed the landmark guilty verdict in the case of Jennifer Crumbley, whose teenage son Ethan Crumbley murdered four Michigan high school students and wounded seven other people in a 2021 shooting.

"Today's verdict underscores the important responsibility of parents and gun owners in preventing children from having unsupervised access to deadly weapons," said Nick Suplina, senior vice president of law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety.

"Plain and simple, the deadly shooting at Oxford High School in 2021 should have—and could have—been prevented had the Crumbleys not acquired a gun for their 15-year-old son," he continued. "This decision is an important step forward in ensuring accountability and, hopefully, preventing future tragedies."

A Michigan jury found the mother guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each person killed. Each count has a maximum sentence of 15 years, meaning she faces up to 60 years behind bars. Sentencing is scheduled for April 9.

Her husband, James Crumbley, is set to go to trial next month for the same manslaughter charges. Their son, who is now 17, previously pleaded guilty to murder and terrorism charges and is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jennifer and James Crumbley are the first U.S. parents to be tried on manslaughter charges for their child's mass shooting. They not only bought their son a pistol but are accused of failing to keep it secured and ignoring his mental health struggles. On the stand, Jennifer Crumbley did not deny that her son had told "his only friend" that he asked her for help and she laughed at him.

As The Associated Pressreported Tuesday:

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 math assignment. His parents were called to the school for a 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.

According to the AP, "The words with the disturbing drawing said: 'The thoughts won't stop. Help me. The world is dead. My life is useless.'"

Ethan Crumbley murdered Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Justin Shilling, 17; and Hana St. Juliana, 14. Justin Shilling's father, Craig Shilling, on Tuesday welcomed the verdict outside the courtroom and framed the verdict as a signal to all parents.

"We have been asking for accountability across the board, and this is one step towards that," he told NBC News. "I feel that moving forward is not going to be any easier because of what we left behind, but it gives us hope for a brighter future."

"Do your due diligence with your child," he said to parents. "You cannot choose to take your own interest over your child, especially when it comes to mental health."

While Tuesday's "send-a-message verdict" is a first, there have been other cases involving parents. As Mother Jonesdetailed:

Jennifer Crumbley's conviction comes as America's mass shooting epidemic tests new legal terrain in several cases. In November, the father of the Highland Park mass shooter pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless conduct for his role in helping his troubled son submit an application to buy firearms. In December, the mother of a 6-year-old boy who shot his first grade teacher at a Virginia elementary school pleaded guilty to felony child neglect and was sentenced to two years in prison.

To some extent, the prosecutions of the Crumbley parents have eclipsed unanswered questions about the role and possible culpability of the Oxford school district. An independent investigation, long delayed, eventually found that the district failed to follow its own threat assessment policy. (As I reported previously, one egregious error was the failure by school officials to inquire proactively about access to guns once they grew alarmed about the perpetrator's behavior and state of mind.)

Prevention policies generally remain underemphasized and underfunded when it comes to reducing school shootings, even as threat assessment becomes more widely used in public schools.

"The horrific deadly shooting at Oxford High School in 2021 was preventable, and today's verdict sets important precedent moving forward that we hope leads to greater accountability and responsibility for parents and gun owners alike," said NextGen America vice president of communications Antonio Arellano in a statement.

"More than anything, this verdict proves our urgent need for better and stronger gun control policy," he asserted. "The Crumbleys should never have been able to acquire a gun for their 15-year-old son. The time for commonsense gun policies is now, and it starts with Congress taking decisive action to implement an assault weapon ban through legislative action."

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