NATIONAL NEWS

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

Mar 13, 2024, 10:08 PM | Updated: Mar 14, 2024, 6:54 pm

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — 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 U.S. parents to be charged in a mass school shooting committed by their child. Jennifer Crumbley, 45, 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, slowly shook his head from side to side as the jury foreman said “guilty.” A sheriff’s deputy removed a dress tie from his neck, shackled him at the waist and returned him to jail.

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.

But neither he, nor his parents, told school officials about the gun they had just bought, according to 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 pulled the Sig Sauer from his backpack and began shooting later that same day, killing Justin Shilling, 17; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Tate Myre, 16. Six more students and a faculty member were wounded. No one had checked the backpack, 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.

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. … He had no idea what his son was planning to do,” she said.

There was no testimony from experts about Ethan’s mental health, and no records were introduced. 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, saying the community needs time to heal.

The father of one victim said after the verdict that more must be done to address gun violence.

“Our children are dying on a daily basis in mass murders, and we do very little about it,” Steve St. Juliana said. “We complain about Second Amendment rights or we say, ‘Well, there’s not enough money for mental health issues.’ … We do not want any other parents to go through what we have gone through.”

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Associated Press writers Katie Foody and Corey Williams contributed to this report.

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Follow Ed White on X, formerly Twitter: https://twitter.com/edwritez

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