James Crumbley, who bought gun used by son to kill 4 students, guilty of manslaughter in Michigan

James Crumbley enters the Oakland County Courtroom of Cheryl Matthews, Wednesday, March, 13, 2024 in Pontiac, Mich. Crumbley is charged with involuntary manslaughter, accused of failing to secure a gun at home and ignoring his son's mental health. Ethan Crumbley killed four students at Oxford High School in 2021. Jury deliberations are set to resume Thursday. (Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press via AP, Pool)

By Associated Press

March 14, 2024

PONTIAC—The father of a Michigan school shooter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter Thursday, a second conviction against the teen’s parents who were accused of failing to secure a gun at home and doing nothing to address acute signs of his mental turmoil.

The jury verdict means James Crumbley has joined Jennifer Crumbley as a cause of the killing of four students at Oxford High School in 2021, even without pulling the trigger.

They had separate trials as the first US parents to be charged in a mass school shooting committed by their child. Jennifer Crumbley was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in February.

The verdicts—one each for the four victims—were read around 7:15 p.m. at the end of a full day of deliberations in Oakland County court.

James Crumbley, 47, who heard the outcome through headphones because of a hearing problem, shook his head from side to side as the jury foreman said “guilty.”

Family of some of the fallen students wept quietly and gripped each other’s hands in the second row of the courtroom.

Later at a news conference, county prosecutor Karen McDonald stood next to them and praised their “unwavering courage” through extraordinary tragedy and grief.

“This verdict does not bring back their children, but it does mark a moment of accountability and will hopefully be another step to address and end gun violence,” McDonald said.

Defense attorney Mariell Lehman said James Crumbley “obviously feels terrible” about what happened at the school. He and his wife each face a possible minimum sentence of as much as 10 years in prison when they return to court April 9.

“While we are disappointed with the verdict, we know that the jury had a very difficult task in front of them,” Lehman told The Associated Press.

Prosecutors focused on two key themes at the trial: the parents’ response to a morbid drawing on Ethan Crumbley’s math assignment a few hours before the shooting, and the teen’s access to a Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun purchased by James Crumbley only four days earlier.

Ethan, 15, made a ghastly drawing of a gun and a wounded man on a math assignment and added disturbing phrases, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. My life is useless.”

But James and Jennifer Crumbley declined to take Ethan home following a brief meeting at the school, and staff didn’t demand it. A counselor, concerned about suicidal ideations, told them to seek help for the boy within 48 hours.

Ethan had told counselor Shawn Hopkins that he was sad over the death of his dog and grandmother and the loss of a friend who had abruptly moved away. He said the drawing was simply his jottings for a video game and that he wasn’t planning to commit violence.

Neither he, nor his parents, told school officials about the gun they had just bought, according to trial testimony.

Hopkins had hoped Ethan would spend the day with his parents. But when that was ruled out, the counselor felt the teen would probably be safer around others at school.

Ethan later pulled the Sig Sauer from his backpack and began shooting that same day, killing Justin Shilling, 17; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Tate Myre, 16. No one had checked the bag, though a school administrator had joked about its heaviness.

“James Crumbley is not on trial for what his son did,” McDonald told the jury Wednesday. “James Crumbley is on trial for what he did and for what he didn’t do.”

He “doesn’t get a pass because somebody else” actually pulled the trigger, she said.

Hopkins told the jury that James Crumbley showed empathy toward his son during the meeting about the drawing, but took no additional action.

When James Crumbley heard about the shooting, he rushed home from his DoorDash job and looked for the gun.

“I think my son took the gun,” he said in a frantic 911 call.

Investigators found an empty gun case and empty ammunition box on the parents’ bed. A cable that could have locked the gun was still in a package, unopened.

Ethan told a judge when he pleaded guilty to murder and terrorism that the gun was not locked when he stuffed it in his backpack before school.

Lehman, the defense lawyer, tried to emphasize to jurors that James Crumbley did not consent to any gun access by his son.

“He did not know he had to protect others from his son,” she said. “He did not know that it was reasonably foreseeable that his son would commit these offenses. He had no idea what his son was planning to do.”

There was no testimony from experts about Ethan’s mental health, and no records were introduced. The boy’s lawyers said before trial that he would invoke his right to remain silent if called to testify.

But the judge allowed the jury to see excerpts from the teen’s handwritten journal.

“I have zero help for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up the … school,” Ethan wrote. “I want help but my parents don’t listen to me so I can’t get any help.”

Now 17, he is serving a life sentence with no chance for parole.

After Judge Cheryl Matthews lifted a gag order that had prevented lawyers from speaking to reporters, Jennifer Crumbley’s attorney Shannon Smith declined to comment Thursday night.

“We believe the victims, their families, and the community need and deserve the space and time to begin healing from this tragedy,” Smith said on Facebook.

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