I was in the car listening to the radio news on the afternoon of February 6, 2024, when the verdict in the Jennifer Crumbley case was announced in court. She was found guilty of four counts of Involuntary Manslaughter. At the time of this writing, sentencing has not been announced. However, it’s expected to be fifteen years for each, served concurrently, with time already spent in jail taken into account.
Oxford Shooter’s Mother, Jennifer Crumbley, Found Guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter
Jennifer Crumbley is the mother of Ethan Crumbley, who, on the last day of November 2021, opened fire at the Oxford High School in Oxford Township, Michigan. In the course of a five-minute rampage, he shot eleven students, killing four. Madisyn Baldwin, 17, Tate Myre, 16, and Hana St. Juliana, 14, died on the scene.
A mortally wounded Justin Shilling, 17, succumbed the following day. Young Myre died a hero. He had attempted to disarm the killer and tragically failed. Tate Myre drew his last breath in a police vehicle that was racing him to the hospital.
As soon as he faced armed deputies, Ethan Crumbley immediately surrendered. According to Fox News, there were still seven live 9mm rounds in his pistol. Likewise, there were two more fifteen-round magazines on his person.
Pleading guilty to four counts of First Degree Murder, Ethan Crumbley was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. He is now appealing the decision.
His parents were charged with Involuntary Manslaughter on the grounds that the criminal negligence of leaving the gun where their known-to-be-troubled son could reach it facilitated the heart-breaking deaths and injuries. At this writing, James Crumbley, the father, is still awaiting trial on the same charges as his wife.
The verdict is breaking news. If and when we hear from the jurors as to what arguments most influenced their verdict, we will learn more.
Anti-gun groups are hailing the conviction and dancing in the blood, sometimes demanding Draconian new laws mandating “safe storage.”
Similarly, some on the far fringes of the debate even want to criminalize the use of firearms by junior shooters. Including hunting and the shooting sports.
The Safe Storage Issue
No one knows more about safe storage than responsible gun owners. They understand the importance of keeping deadly weapons secure from the unauthorized hands of criminals, the incompetent, and the mentally ill. This verdict will probably spike sales of gun safes.
At the same time, though, we have to define the borders of negligence. Generations of responsible young Americans have grown up with ready access to guns, and turned out to be excellent citizens. It is the troubled kids whose access to anything dangerous needs to be limited or blocked entirely.
What if this particular 15-year-old murderer had taken the keys to a family car and deliberately run over eleven people? Would his parents still have been charged with Involuntary Manslaughter for not locking up the car keys?
Beyond the Gun
There were far more issues in play than the firearm. When Ethan was seven or eight years old, neighbors complained to Child Protective Services that Jennifer and her husband, James, often left him alone at home for hours while they went to bars.
As the crisis point approached, he begged his parents for psychiatric care and was apparently angered when his request was blown off. At the penultimate point, about the time he recorded himself threatening to shoot up the school, he texted his mother. The ominous message stated that he was home alone, seeing demons and ghosts.
She didn’t answer him. It turns out she was more interested in her hobby—riding her horses—and an extramarital affair she was having. The school also reported to Jennifer that during class hours, her son was doing an internet search for ammo purchases. She texted the boy, “Don’t get caught.”
She didn’t take him out of school when teachers reported what they considered to be dangerous behavior.
And when she learned there was a shooting in progress at the school, she texted Ethan, “Don’t do it.” This was a strong indication that she recognized her son’s proclivity toward deadly violence.
The Crumbleys did not attend their son’s arraignment. Reportedly, that’s because they cashed out their bank accounts and were in the act of fleeing, in fear of arrest.
Always remember the flight equals guilt element. Ordinary citizens in the jury pool associate flight with consciousness of guilt. I’m sure this will be mentioned if and when the jurors do speak out about how their deliberations went.
Was Oxford High School Also Complicit?
The school system was not without some responsibility in this horror story. I spoke with Steven Wittebort who is a retired SWAT cop and homicide investigator and now a provider of high-level security and investigations. His son attended Oxford High and knew the killer.
Wittebort told us that the SRO (School Resource Officer) was not included in the two meetings where staff discussed the Crumbley boy’s issues shortly before the shooting. The SRO would have had the authority to remove young Crumbley from the school. However, the teachers, who were “mandated reporters” and required to report dangerous behavior, did not do so, Wittebort informed us.
The Larger Issue
The overriding issue is how to prevent such atrocities as young Crumbley perpetrated. School Resource Officers are a start. However, in this case, there was an SRO present. He just couldn’t get to the shooting scene before the eleven victims had been shot.
Upon his and a sheriff’s deputy’s arrival, the cowardly young murderer immediately gave up. Oxford High is a large building with some 1800 students, so the time/space continuum was not on the SRO’s side. Had the school had a volunteer armed faculty program, it is highly likely that someone with a gun could have been close enough to stop Ethan much sooner.
Perhaps young Crumbley would have surrendered—as he did to the armed police—before anyone was shot at all. And if he didn’t, and the armed faculty member had to shoot, the only casualty would have been the perhaps already irretrievably broken young man who came there that day to commit murder.
Parents naturally go into denial when someone tells them there’s something wrong with their kid. They need to take it seriously. When children themselves tell us they need psychiatric help, they probably do.
The Crumbleys were not the only people to fall into this trap. Mrs. Crumbley testified on the witness stand that she wished Ethan had killed her and his father instead of his schoolmates. She was lucky he didn’t.
We remember school shooters like the one in Pearl, Mississippi, and the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They murdered their mothers the day before their rampage to get access to the keys to the gun safe that held what they would turn into mass murder weapons.
The gun safe is not the whole, perfect answer.
The closest to a whole answer is honestly recognizing that someone you love is turning into a monster. Followed by getting them help before something happens.
As time goes on, hopefully, we will hear more from the jurors about what dynamics led them to their verdict. Then, there will be more lessons for all of us to learn.
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