Facing likely prison sentences, Michigan school shooter’s parents seek mercy from judge

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PONTIAC, Mich. — The parents of a Michigan school shooter are asking a judge to keep them out of prison as they face sentencing for their role in an attack that killed four students in 2021.

Jennifer and James Crumbley are scheduled to appear in court Tuesday for the close of a pioneering case: They are the first parents convicted in a U.S. mass school shooting.

The Crumbleys did not know their son, Ethan Crumbley, was planning the shooting at Oxford High School. But prosecutors said the parents failed to safely store a gun and could have prevented the shooting by removing the 15-year-old from school when confronted with his dark drawing that day.

Prosecutors are seeking at least 10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.

Defense attorney Shannon Smith said Jennifer Crumbley is “not a threat to the community.” Smith said she is even willing to put Jennifer Crumbley up in a guest house at her property, outfitted with an electronic tether.

“Putting Mrs. Crumbley in prison does nothing to further deter others from committing like offenses,” Smith said in a court filing. “There is no person who would want the events of Nov. 30, 2021, to repeat themselves.”

Smith said “any gross negligence” were mistakes “that any parent could make.”

Mariell Lehman, a lawyer representing James Crumbley, said the nearly 2 1/2 years spent in jail since the couple’s arrest is enough time in custody. His wife, too, has been in jail, both unable to post a $500,000 bond before trial.

James Crumbley “did not believe that there was reason to be concerned that his son was a threat to anyone,” Lehman said.

Ethan Crumbley, now 17, pleaded guilty and is serving a life prison sentence.

Prosecutors said “tragically simple actions” by both parents could have stopped the catastrophe.

The couple had separate trials in Oakland County court, 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Detroit. Jurors heard how the teen had drawn a gun, a bullet and a gunshot victim on a math assignment, accompanied by grim phrases: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. My life is useless. Blood everywhere.”

Ethan told a counselor he was sad — a grandmother had died and his only friend suddenly had moved away — but said the drawing only reflected his interest in creating video games.

The Crumbleys attended a meeting at the school that lasted less than 15 minutes. They did not mention that the gun resembled one James Crumbley, 47, had purchased just four days earlier — a Sig Sauer 9 mm that Ethan had described on social media as his “beauty.”

His parents declined to take him home, choosing instead to return to work and accepting a list of mental health providers. School staff said Ethan could stay on campus. A counselor, Shawn Hopkins, said he believed it would be safer for the boy than possibly being alone at home.

No one, however, checked Ethan’s backpack. He pulled the gun out later that day and killed four students — Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana, Justin Shilling and Madisyn Baldwin — and wounded seven other people.

There was no trial testimony from specialists about Ethan’s state of mind. But the judge, over defense objections, allowed the jury to see excerpts from his journal.

“I have zero help for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up the … school,” he wrote. “I want help but my parents don’t listen to me so I can’t get any help.”

Asked about Ethan reporting hallucinations months before the shooting, Jennifer Crumbley, 46, told jurors he was simply “messing around.”

At the close of James Crumbley’s trial, prosecutor Karen McDonald demonstrated how a cable lock, found in a package at home, could have secured the gun.

“Ten seconds,” she said, “of the easiest, simplest thing.”

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Follow Ed White at X at https://twitter.com/edwritez

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