Mother of Oxford High School shooter convicted in groundbreaking ruling

Dive Brief:

  • In connection with the school shooting at Oxford High School in November 2021, Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of the shooter, was found guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter. The shooting resulted in the death of four students and injury to seven others. 

  • In December 2021, Jennifer Crumbley and her husband James Crumbley were charged, which raised concerns about the responsibility and liability of parents and schools in the aftermath of a mass shooting on school grounds. 

  • This landmark verdict marks the first time parents or guardians have been found guilty in connection with their child’s involvement in a school shooting. Jennifer Crumbley could face up to 60 years in prison.

Dive Insight:

According to a letter sent to the Oxford Community by former Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne, both school personnel and Jennifer Crumbley’s parents were aware of warning signs leading up to the school shooting. These warning signs included drawings depicting a gun, a bullet, and a bleeding person who appeared to be shot twice. 

School staff members were informed about the drawings and pulled the shooter out of class. Despite concerns about his mental health, both the school personnel and parents allowed him to return to class rather than sending him home, according to news reports.

“The student’s parents never advised the school district that he had direct access to a firearm or that they had recently purchased a firearm for him,” Throne stated in his December 4th letter. 

Survivors of the shooting filed a lawsuit against the district in federal court. They claimed that school leaders “exacerbated the danger to all students” by allowing Ethan Crumbley to return to class and showed “deliberate indifference” in creating or increasing the risk of a school shooting. This lawsuit was one of several filed in the months following the shooting. 

The opening statements during Jennifer Crumbley’s trial on January 25th echoed similar sentiments. “Even though she didn’t pull the trigger on November 30th [2021], she’s responsible for those deaths,” said Oakland County assistant prosecutor Marc Keast, as reported by news coverage. Keast also mentioned that the parents failed to take simple preventative measures that could have averted the tragedy.

According to Ron Astor, a school safety expert and professor at the University of Los Angeles, California, the Crumbley case might impact the relationship between schools and parents concerning violence prevention efforts. 

“Perhaps it will lead to a point where, if the school actually believes that these complex set of behaviors are actually increasing the chances of other kids in the schools or teachers being shot and killed, that they’ll have more teeth” when collaborating with parents on violence prevention efforts, Astor suggested.

Jennifer Crumbley’s guilty verdict comes shortly after the U.S. Education Department urged principals and districts to promote gun storage awareness, emphasizing the credibility and unique position of district and school administrators in potentially saving lives.