parent of school shooter found guilty of manslaughter

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, Pool)

For the first time, a parent of a school shooter was found guilty of manslaughter. What led to the unprecedented charges, and what does this mean for future school shooting cases?

A Preventable Tragedy

On November 30, 2021, Jennifer Crumbley and her husband, James, were called to their son’s Michigan school, Oxford High School. Teachers were concerned about their 15-year-old son Ethan. School officials found a disturbing drawing of a gun that Ethan had created and they were concerned about Ethan’s mental health.

Jennifer and James choose to leave Ethan at school after the meeting. Just a few hours later, Ethan would go on to shoot and kill four of his classmates.

The semi-automatic handgun that Ethan used to shoot his classmates was purchased a few days early by Jennifer and James. It was given to Ethan as an early Christmas present. Ethan had full access to the gun, which was not properly secured.

Jennifer and James failed to inform the school that their son had access to a gun or remove him from school the day of the shooting, and now, they are both facing serious consequences for their actions.

Both Jennifer and James were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one charge for each of the people killed by their son.

On February 6, 2024, Jennifer was found guilty of all four manslaughter charges.

What Is a Manslaughter Charge?

In the court system, manslaughter is different from murder in that manslaughter is not premeditated or planned. Manslaughter is used when a party’s action or inaction leads to the death of another person.

In the case of Jennifer Crumbley, her inaction led to her son committing murder. The prosecution proved:

  • She failed to act when presented with evidence that an ordinary person would recognize as having the potential to create harm.
  • Her gross negligence led to the deaths of the students.

Jennifer’s case took place after her son had already pleaded guilty to 24 charges, which included four counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

During Jennifer’s case, the jury viewed over 400 pieces of evidence and heard from 20 witnesses, which included law enforcement officials and school staff members. Ethan did not testify. The jury took roughly two days to deliver a unanimous guilty verdict.

Jennifer now awaits her sentencing, which will be decided by a judge on April 9, 2024. Each manslaughter count carries a potential penalty of 15 years in prison. Jennifer faces up to 60 years in prison.

Jennifer is the first parent to face serious consequences for a mass shooting committed by their child. Next, Ethan’s father will stand trial against the same charges as his wife in March 2024.

Other Cases of Parents Charged in School Shootings

While this is the first time a parent has faced serious criminal consequences for their child committing a school shooting, it is not the first time a parent has faced charges.

In 2022, Robert Crimo Jr. is said to have known that his son wanted to “kill everyone,” but he still sponsored his son’s application for a state gun ownership permit, as reported by the New York Times. Robert Crimo III was 19 at the time he obtained a gun. Two years later, he would use it to kill seven people at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois. Crimo Jr. pleaded guilty to seven misdemeanor counts of reckless conduct and was sentenced to 60 days in jail, two years of probation, and 100 hours of public service, as reported by the New York Times.

Another case of a parent being held responsible for their child carrying out a shooting is Deja Taylor. The woman’s six-year-old took a gun from her home to school and proceeded to shoot and injure a teacher. Taylor was sentenced to two years in prison for felony child neglect, per reporting by CBS News.

What Does This Mean for Other School Shootings?

Parents of school shooters have faced consequences in the legal system before, but the charges were often primarily civil charges. For example, dozens of civil lawsuits have been filed by parents of students who died or were injured in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and as far back as the Columbine shooting, two parents sued the parents of the shooters.

But this case creates precedent for parents to now be held liable for serious criminal charges if their child commits a crime and they had an opportunity to prevent it, but failed to do so.

Related: What’s the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Case? 

Standing Against Gun Violence

As the Executive Director and Board Member of The Oulson Family Foundation, TJ Grimaldi stands with the victims of gun violence. TJ works to help kids get what they need in the wake of being impacted by gun violence. Learn more about The Oulson Family Foundation and see how you can also help victims of gun violence.

If you are involved in a legal case, whether it is a criminal or civil, talk to an attorney right away. Get your questions answered. Schedule your free call with TJ Grimaldi today. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023

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