Another senseless tragedy occurred on November 30 in Michigan at Oxford High School when 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley brought a gun to school and turned it on his classmates, injuring seven and killing four.

While many of the details are as familiar and heartbreaking as many other school shootings, there is something different about this case. It appears to be the first time the parents of a school shooter are being criminally charged in the case.

What’s different about Crumbley’s case, what’s the legal reasoning behind the charges, and how much jail time do the parents of the Oxford school shooter face?

Why Are Parents Being Charged in This School Shooting?

By some estimation, there have been 149 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in 2021. Far too often, we hear news about kids dying in the classroom. But, what happened in Michigan was different.

The day of the shooting, Ethan’s parents, James and Jennifer were called to the school after officials became concerned about Ethan’s behavior. The parents seemingly ignored concerns and asked for their son to be returned to the classroom. That afternoon, Ethan killed four classmates.

Failing to head warning signs is just one of the reasons why Ethan’s parents are being partially blamed for the tragedy. A series of events and situations, as reported by the New York Times, show their involvement in the days leading up to the shooting.

  • November 26: James and Jennifer took their son to a gun shop and purchased a  9-millimeter Sig Sauer pistol for him as an early Christmas gift. Ethan posted a photo of the gun on his social media with the caption, “Just got my new beauty today,” with a heart emoji. The gun was reportedly stored unlocked in their house.
  • November 29: The day before the shooting, the school notified Jennifer that Ethan was caught searching for ammunition on his phone during school hours. In response, she texted Ethan, “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”
  • November 30: The day of the shooting, both parents were called to the school after a teacher saw a drawing of Ethan’s that depicted a handgun along with the phrases “the thoughts won’t stop,” “help me,” and “blood everywhere.” The parents declined to remove their son from school. They also didn’t inspect the backpack he had with him, which held the gun he used to kill four students later that day.

Oakland County prosecuting attorney Karen McDonald says the Cumbleys gave their son access to a handgun and ignored warning signs that showed he was a threat to those around him. She believes the Crumbleys could have prevented the shooting, which is why she filed criminal charges against them.

What Criminal Charges Are Ethan Crumbley’s Parents Facing?

The shooting occurred in Michigan so it will follow the laws and statutes of that state.

James and Jennifer were both charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one count for each student that died in the shooting.

Each charge carries a maximum $7,500 fine and 15 years in prison. The parents face $30,000 in fines and 60 years in prison if convicted on all four counts.

For the parents to be found guilty on the charges, prosecutors will need to prove:

  • The parents’ gross negligence led to the deaths of the student.
  • The parents failed to act when they were presented with evidence that an ordinary person would recognize as having the potential to create harm.

Both of the Crumbleys have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Have Parents Been Charged in School Shootings Before?

What makes this case unique is that parents are rarely, if ever, criminal charged in school shootings.

Civil lawsuits have been filed in past school shootings. In fact, there is already a civil suit filed in the Oxford school shooting. A set of parents are suing the school district for endangering the lives of their two daughters. One daughter was shot in the neck and the other witnessed it. Their parents say they are now both dealing with post-traumatic stress.

Dozens of civil lawsuits were also filed by parents of students who died or were injured in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

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

Parents of shooters have also faced civil charges in the wake of school shootings. The lawyer representing the parents of the two daughters involved in the Oxford school shooting also sued the parents of Columbine shooters back in 1999.

But, this seems to be the first time parents of a child who committed a school shooting have been prosecuted in criminal courts.

Related: Examples of Wrongful Death Cases: Do You Have a Case?   

Getting Justice for Injured Parties

It is a tragedy any time a person is injured or loses their life in a situation that could have been prevented. The criminal courts will now decide if the negligence of Ethan Crowley’s parents is enough to warrant jail time. Civil courts will determine if the school is also partially responsible for the terrible tragedy.

If you or a loved one experienced a senseless act that led to the death of a loved one, justice needs to be served.

Talk to a wrongful death attorney about your options for holding liable parties accountable. Learn how you can get justice for a loved one. Talk to attorney TJ Grimaldi today. Schedule your free consultation or call 813-226-1023.

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