The parents of the Oxford High School shooter will stand trial on four counts of involuntary manslaughter for the four deaths their son Ethan Crumbley caused in a November 2021 school shooting in what may be a precedent-setting case, the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled.
The parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, have argued the charges have no legal justification and that they should not be held responsible for their son’s killings.
In a written opinion filed Thursday, a panel of judges for the state’s appellate court acknowledged the possible precedent-setting nature of this case – holding parents accountable for a child’s crimes – but called the situation unique and unusual.
“We share defendants’ concern about the potential for this decision to be applied in the future to parents whose situation viz-a-viz their child’s intentional conduct is not as closely tied together, and/or the warning signs and evidence were not as substantial as they are here,” wrote the panel.
The opinion said that those concerns are “significantly diminished” by the fact that Crumbley’s actions “were reasonably foreseeable, and that is the ultimate test that must be applied.”
In the opinion, the judges cited text messages from the months before the massacre in which Crumbley told his parents about experiencing paranoia and hallucinations, including his belief that a demon was throwing objects around the house. When his mother didn’t reply, he sent her another message asking, “can you at least text back.” His mother did not text back that day and was riding horses with James at the time, according to the opinion.
Crumbley also told a friend that he believed he was having a mental breakdown and asked his parents for medical help but that his father told him to “suck it up” and his mother laughed, according to the opinion.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Michael Riordan noted that the case was exceptional because of how clear it was that Crumbley was struggling with his mental health and contemplating violence – and the fact that his parents provided him a handgun anyway.
“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,” wrote Riordan wrote. “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.”
Jennifer and James Crumbley can appeal the decision to Michigan’s Supreme Court, which previously ruled that there appears to be enough evidence to move forward with a trial.
Parents were charged after 15-year-old son killed four classmates
Ethan Crumbley, 15 years old at the time, shot and killed four students and injured six students and a teacher at his Michigan high school in November 2021. He pleaded guilty in October to terrorism and murder charges. A hearing is set for May 1 where a circuit court judge will consider whether Crumbley, a minor prosecuted as an adult, can be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Crumbley’s parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, were also arrested days after the shooting following a manhunt that led authorities to a Detroit warehouse. Accused of providing their son easy access to a firearm and disregarding warning signs, the pair were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors have argued the Crumbleys “willfully ignored the needs and well-being of their son and the threat he posed to others.” In a December 2021 court filing, they said that the parents knew their son was depressed and “fascinated” with guns.
On the day of the shooting, school officials held a meeting with James and Jennifer Crumbley after discovering disturbing drawings their son made featuring guns and the words, “The thoughts won’t stop help me.” The school advised the parents to provide counseling to their son within 48 hours. But the parents declined to take their son out of school and he returned to the classroom.
According to Ethan Crumbley’s statements in court, he retrieved a gun from an unlocked container in his home, hid it in his backpack, and pulled it out of his bag in a bathroom before opening fire on his classmates.
James Crumbley purchased the gun used by his son just four days before the massacre, according to prosecutors.
Attorneys for Crumbley’s parents previously indicated that they would want their son to testify in their defense should their case go to trial.