The mother of the Oxford High School shooter was found guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter Tuesday, in connection with the November 2021 school shooting that left four students dead and seven others injured.
When Jennifer Crumbley, mother of school shooter Ethan Crumbley, and her husband James Crumbley were charged in December 2021, the case raised questions about parents' and schools' responsibility and liability following a mass attack on school grounds.
The landmark guilty verdict is thought to be the first for parents or guardians charged in connection with their child's role in a school shooting. Crumbley faces up to 60 years in prison.
According to a letter sent to the Oxford Community by former Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne following the shooting, both school personnel and Crumbley's parents were aware of red flags in the days leading up to the school shooting. These included drawings of a gun, a bullet and a person who appeared to be shot twice and bleeding.
School employees were made aware of the drawings and summoned the shooter out of class, according to news reports. Despite concerns about his mental health, both school personnel and parents allowed him to return to class instead of sending him home from school, news reports said.
“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 said in his Dec. 4 letter.
Survivors of the shooting sued the district in federal court, claiming that school leaders "compounded the danger to all students" when they released Ethan Crumbley back to class and "acted with deliberate indifference and created and/or increased the risk of a school shooting." That lawsuit was one of at least five filed in the months following the shooting.
Similar sentiments were echoed in the opening statements during Jennifer Crumbley's trial on Jan. 25.
“Even though she didn’t pull the trigger on Nov. 30 , she’s responsible for those deaths,” said Oakland County assistant prosecutor Marc Keast, per news coverage. The parents “didn’t do a number of tragically small and easy things that would have prevented this from happening,” Keast said.
School safety expert Ron Astor, professor of social welfare at the University of Los Angeles, California, said Crumbley's case may lead to changed relationships between schools and parents when it comes to 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, said Astor.
Jennifer Crumbley's guilty verdict comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Education Department pushed principals and districts to spread gun storage awareness, saying that district and school administrators "have credibility … that uniquely position[s] you to help save lives."
Crumbley's husband, James, is scheduled for trial in March. Their trials were separated at the couple's request.
Ethan Crumbley is serving life in prison without parole after being sentenced last December.