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School shooter’s parents could face years in prison after groundbreaking Michigan trials

Mar 15, 2024, 12:40 PM

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — Parents of the victims of a Michigan mass shooting were steadfast observers at court hearings that led to three separate convictions of an entire family. One of their goals now is to see more change rise out of the 2021 tragedy at Oxford High School.

“We can put people on the moon. We can build skyscrapers, huge monuments like the Hoover Dam — and we can’t keep our kids safe in schools,” said Steve St. Juliana, whose 14-year-old daughter, Hana, was killed by Ethan Crumbley.

“I think people just need to wake up and take action. Stop accepting the excuses. Stop buying the rhetoric,” St. Juliana said Thursday night after the teen shooter’s father was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

James Crumbley, 47, was found guilty, five weeks after his wife, Jennifer Crumbley, 45, was convicted of the same charges at a separate trial in suburban Detroit. They were accused of failing to take critical steps, including safely securing a gun at home, that could have prevented their son’s attack.

Here’s what’s ahead for the Crumbleys and what’s on the minds of families struggling with grief:

SENTENCING:

James and Jennifer Crumbley, the first U.S. parents charged with responsibility for a mass school shooting, will be sentenced on April 9. Ethan, now 17, is serving life in prison with no chance for parole after pleading guilty to murder and terrorism.

The maximum term in Michigan for involuntary manslaughter is 15 years in prison. But what’s critical are the minimum sentences that will be ordered by Judge Cheryl Matthews. They could be as high as 10 years. After the minimum is served, the Michigan parole board can consider releasing the Crumbleys.

They will get credit for more than two years spent in the Oakland County jail since their arrest.

THE TRIALS:

Prosecutors said Ethan, who was 15 at the time, wanted help for his mental health but his parents ignored him. On the day of the shooting, they went to the school to discuss his morbid drawing of a gun, a wounded figure and phrases such as, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”

Instead of taking their son home, the Crumbleys left with a list of contacts for mental health services and returned to work. A few hours later, Ethan pulled a Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun from his backpack and began shooting.

The gun had been purchased four days earlier by James Crumbley, and mother and son had used it at a shooting range. Investigators said the firearm was not secured at home; a cable lock was found in a package.

School staff had not demanded that Ethan be taken home. But they also didn’t know about the new gun or that it resembled the one in the drawing, according to testimony.

Prosecutors said the shooting was a foreseeable consequence of James Crumbley’s actions. His defense lawyer denied that.

“James was not aware that his son could or would harm anyone or that he had obtained the means to do so. Obviously, James feels terrible about what happened,” Mariell Lehman said after the trial.

STRATEGY:

James Crumbley decided not to testify, unlike his wife, whose time in the witness chair didn’t help her. Jennifer Crumbley told a jury that she wouldn’t have done anything differently and believed that she, too, was a victim.

“The first trial was about what kind of parent Jennifer Crumbley was,” said Terry Johnson, a Detroit-area defense lawyer who watched the trials. “You heard about an affair. You heard about horses. His character was not the central issue like it was in the first trial.”

Prosecutor Karen McDonald said investigators had a key question immediately after the Oxford massacre: Where did the teen get a gun?

“And that led to a lot more questions,” she said, “and that led to disturbing, upsetting and egregious facts.”

McDonald said “basic, reasonable, ordinary care” by the parents could have prevented the shooting, but instead the community has been devastated.

THE RESPONSE:

Affected families have become activists in some ways. Buck Myre, whose 16-year-old son Tate Myre was killed, said his family started a mentoring program to help kids.

“Our kids are not doing well these days. We’re in a mental health crisis,” Myre told reporters. “The gun is just a tool. We got to look at other things other than the gun. We’re going to see what we can do to support these kids better.”

Nicole Beausoleil, the mother of slain 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin, said the focus now should shift to the Oxford school district — “the school and its failures, the things that they don’t want to admit to.”

“We will be here fighting every second for our children, because they are not allowed to forget any of them,” she said.

The school district hired an outside group to conduct an independent investigation of the shooting. A report released in October said “missteps at each level” — school board, administrators, staff — contributed to the disaster. Six students and a staff member were also wounded that day.

Lawsuits against the district and school personnel are pending in state and federal courts.

“We have to go for the big picture and wrap this thing up and hold everybody accountable,” said Craig Shilling, whose son Justin Shilling, 17, was killed in a school restroom.

CHANGES IN POLICY:

The Oxford shooting already influenced one change in Michigan law. Gun owners must keep unloaded firearms in a locked container when it’s reasonably known that a child will likely be present. The offense could be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances.

A Flint man was recently charged under the new law after his 2-year-old daughter shot herself.

“The three prosecutions and convictions are critical. But we will not solve gun violence with these three prosecutions,” McDonald said of the Crumbley family.

And she urged others in law enforcement to be aggressive when necessary.

“Be brave. Ask tough questions. And if they don’t answer, then keep trying,” McDonald said.

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AP reporter Katie Foody in Chicago contributed to this story.

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

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School shooter’s parents could face years in prison after groundbreaking Michigan trials