Blame game: teen mass shooter’s mother found guilty of manslaughter in Michigan

“Who raised that kid?” is a sentiment that has been supercharged by a Michigan jury, which this week unanimously found a mother guilty of manslaughter for the school shooting carried out by her teenage son.

Jennifer Crumbley is the first parent in United States history to be convicted on such a charge.

Her son is already serving life in prison without parole for killing four of his classmates and injuring seven others in the November 2021 shooting at Oxford High School in the outer suburbs of Detroit.

Found guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter — generally defined as the accidental killing of a person through recklessness or negligence — Jennifer faces up to 15 years behind bars for each charge, with sentencing to take place in April.

Her husband, James, will be tried separately on the same charges, and has already pleaded not guilty.

As reported by the BBC, “the question at the heart of the trial was whether the mother could have foreseen and prevented the deadly crime”. Among the facts of the case weighed by the jury:

Ms Crumbley and her husband James bought the gun their son used just days before the shooting…

At her trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Ethan Crumbley had wanted mental health help and complained of hallucinations but said his parents did not get him treatment. Ms Crumbley said on the stand that she did not think her son had mental health problems.

On the morning of the shooting, the parents cut short a school meeting about a disturbing drawing their son had made to go to work and declined to take the then 15-year-old home.

School officials sent him back to class without checking his backpack, which contained a gun.

Just hours later, he killed Hana St Juliana, 14, Myre, 16, and Madisyn Baldwin and Justin Shilling, both 17.

While there is abundant evidence to convict Jennifer and James Crumbley of bad parenting, their being tried as de facto accessories to a school shooting opens the door to an entirely new realm of legal possibilities.

Should the line be drawn at school shootings, or should courts hold parents responsible if their child commits murder? What about assault? Burglary? Cybercrime? Misgendering?

Moreover, should the line be drawn at parents? What about grandparents? Other significant adults? What about holding an entire race responsible for the sins committed by the few? But I digress…

As the wise Thomas Sowell has quipped, “We seem to be getting closer and closer to a situation where nobody is responsible for what they did but we are all responsible for what somebody else did.”



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Twelve jurors in Michigan seemed to like the idea, in any case.

The BBC quoted a clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan, Frank Vandervort, who argued, “I don’t fear that this is going to open the floodgates to parents being charged in a run of the mill case… I think the facts of this case are so unique and sort of extreme.”

… said every slippery slope denialist, ever.

Opening the floodgates — also known as setting a legal precedent — is precisely what case law does.

The frightening future that may yet greet us, as Mercator’s editor Michael Cook recently highlighted to me, is more than just parents being held responsible for their children’s crimes — but parents needing permission from the state to raise their kids in the first place.

In a piece published here last October, ethicists were quoted heralding a Brave New World in which parents — who, it was argued, “have no right to rear their biological children” — should be subjected to a parental licensing scheme.

Already drafted into California’s Assembly Bill 957 was that judges should weigh parental affirmation of a childs gender identity or expression along with the young persons health, safety and welfare when determining visitation and custody arrangements.”

All for the greater good, of course.

Here’s a better idea.

Parents raise their own children. And everyone is tried only for the crimes they committed.

Revolutionary, I know. But it has worked well so far. 

Kurt Mahlburg is a writer and author, and an emerging Australian voice on culture and the Christian faith. He has a passion for both the philosophical and the personal, drawing on his background as a graduate architect, a primary school teacher, a missionary, and a young adult pastor.

Image:  Jennifer Crumbley / screenshot 'Today'


Showing 7 reactions

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  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-11 16:52:51 +1100
    mrscracker, I was pretty sure you did.
  • David Page
    commented 2024-02-10 09:17:36 +1100
    I have noticed that conservatives are loath to blame parents for anything. It is always the fault of outside influences when a child does wrong, in their estimation. Giving a troubled child a handgun is gross criminal negligence. I don’t believe I have a mentally challenged child in my orbit but my guns are either locked up or with me. And the keys are ALWAYS in my possession. These parent aren’t being accuse of deliberately killing anyone. And yet people are dead and they are largely responsible for these deaths.
  • mrscracker
    It sounds like you had wise parents, Mr. Steven. And yes, I did teach my son & all my children about gun safety.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-10 08:05:18 +1100
    mrscracker, if your son had the gun since age of 7 your would pretty well know whether he could handle it by age 15, And I’m pretty sure you taught him all about gun safety.

    As it happens I got a .22 at age 10. I still have it. My parents made sure I knew how to handle it before I was allowed to use it on my own – for hunting. They would have been aghast if I tried to take it to school!

    Also, you cannot conceal a rifle easily. I assume the Crumbleys bought Ethan a handgun. which is not something you use for hunting.
  • mrscracker
    My oldest son was given a .22 rifle by a family friend for his 7th birthday. By the time he was 15 he certainly had unsupervised access in the case of an emergency. We had numerous encounters with poison snakes, varmints, & rabid animals. That’s the whole point of owning a firearm-self defense & defense of livestock.
    Many teenage boys ( and girls, too) where we live have access to firearms or own their own firearms because they hunt with their parents or grandparents.
    Certainly it’s another situation when a young person, or really any person, suffers from mental health issues. But mental health comes up over & over again in school shootings, workplace shootings, domestic violence shootings, etc. Because of medical privacy laws it’s very difficult to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally unwell. But you’d imagine parents of a 15 year old could do that on their own. What a sad & tragic thing.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-09 14:50:09 +1100
    Here is a link to another report on the trial:

    Let’s get something straight here.

    The Crumbleys didn’t just buy a gun.

    These bozos bought a gun as a present for a 15-year-old who had asked for mental help.

    Let that sink in for a moment.

    Boy complains of mental issues. Buy him a gun.

    Does that make sense to you?

    They then failed to secure the gun.

    So they allowed 15-year-old they had good reason to believe was mentally troubled to have unsupervised access to a gun.

    Unsupervised access!

    Let that sank in.

    Let it really sink in.

    15 years old. Complains of mental problems. Buy him a gun. Allow him unsupervised access.

    Would you allow a kid you have reason to believe is mentally troubled unsupervised access to a gun?

    For that matter, would you allow any 15 year-old kid unsupervised access to a gun?

    Note the gun was recently bought. How much instruction did Ethan have in gun safety? No evidence was presented that he had any. In fact there was no evidence presented that any responsible adult assessed how well he handled the gun.

    So let’s look at the sequence of events again.

    15 year old boy complains of mental problems, asks to see a doctor. Parents buy him a gun as a present. No evidence of instruction in gun safety. Gun is not secured. Boy has unsupervised access to gun.

    Is it reasonable to foresee there is a significant probability of this ending in tragedy

    Is it reasonable to foresee there is a significant probability that just allowing a 15 year old boy who says he has mental problems unsupervised access to a gun will end in tragedy?

    If your answer is “yes” the test for involuntary manslaughter has been met.

    Now a child, a minor, is serving life in prison and four other children are dead. That’s a big tragedy.

    I would argue that justice would be better served if Ethan Crumbley received the mental help he obviously needs and the Crumbley parents were sent away for life.

    It is, of course, only fair to say that Jennifer Crumbley denies thinking that her child was mentally troubled. But it is unarguable that Ethan asked for help and was allowed unsupervised access to a gun.

    It would not surprise me if the verdict was overturned on appeal. There are dangers with such a verdict as Kurt Mahlburg points out.

    But if the verdict stands and the Crumbleys are sent away for 15 years I would not weep for them.

    I would argue that justice would be best served if Ethan received the mental help he obviously needs and the Crumbley parents went away for life.

    Exceptional circumstances aside, is there anyone here who would allow a 15 year old child unsupervised access to a gun, a gun that was recently bought with no instruction on gun safety, no adult assessment of how the child handles the gun?

    Exceptional circumstances aside again, would you allow a 15 year old child unsupervised access to a gun, period?
  • Kurt Mahlburg
    published this page in The Latest 2024-02-09 12:41:39 +1100