by Brandi Lewis
This past Tuesday, February 6, 2024, a Michigan jury issued a ground-breaking verdict when it sided with prosecutors and convicted the mother of a school shooter of four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors charged the mother, Jennifer Crumbley, with involuntary manslaughter because she failed to take steps to prevent her son, Ethan, from carrying out a shooting that killed four students and injured several other students and educators in Oxford, Michigan in November 2021. She now faces the possibility of 60 years in prison. Her husband is scheduled for trial on the same charges on March 5th. Ethan previously pled guilty to the charges against him and has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.
This is the first case of its kind in the United States, in which a parent of a school shooter has been convicted of involuntary manslaughter for their role in the shooting. While legal experts disagree on the future implications and legal precedent set by this case, the jury made one thing clear: Parents may be held accountable for the behavior of their children, especially when warning signs were evident about possible mental health or other issues with their child, and when it appears the parents failed to act to prevent – or actually may have enabled – their child to carry out the crime.
Craig Shilling, the father of one of those students killed during the shooting, may have said it best. According to CNN, he said, “Parents need to address “things at every level” and there’s “no way to look the other way” now.”
The warning signs and missteps in this case were evident well before the shooting. Ethan had complained to his parents about having hallucinations and needing mental health assistance, but his parents did not act on his requests. They then bought Ethan a handgun as a gift just days prior to the shooting. On the day of the shooting, they were called to school to meet with educators after teachers found a troubling image of a gun, Ethan had drawn. Even before the meeting, Ms. Crumbley had texted a friend expressing concern that her son would “do something dumb.” The school suggested that the parents have Ethan assessed that day, yet Mr. and Ms. Crumbley cut the meeting short and declined to take Ethan out of school. Later that day, Ethan removed the handgun from his backpack, then shot and killed four classmates.
This jury’s decision is a clear warning to parents: The judicial system is increasingly likely to hold parents accountable for their failure to prevent – or their willingness to enable – their children to perform illegal acts.
As a defense attorney, this is a very sobering development. Rightly or wrongly, it extends the prospect of criminal liability to family members of those who commit crimes.
As our society grapples with issues like crime, mental health, gun control and more, we must all be aware of our responsibility to watch for – and take steps to act upon – the warning signs we may see in those around us.
If you suspect your child may be having similar issues as Ethan, it behooves you to take steps to get him or her help. This may involve contacting a local mental health practitioner or an attorney. At the Baldani Law Office, we are prepared to help you handle such issues. Please give us a call at 859-259-0727. We are here to help you before the unimaginable may occur.
Watch Brandi Lewis’s WKYT interview about this case.