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Mich. school shooter’s father convicted of involuntary manslaughter

Prosecutors argued that James Crumbley committed gross negligence by failing to store guns safely; a sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 9, the same day as Jennifer Crumbley’s sentencing for the same charge


James Crumbley, father of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, reenters the courtroom after a break on the first day of his trial on four counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of four Oxford High School students who were shot and killed by his son, on March 7, 2024, at Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Michigan. Crumbley’s wife Jennifer Crumbley was convicted on the same four counts at her trial last month, the first time in U.S. history that a parent was tried in relation to a mass school shooting that was committed by their child. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images/TNS)

Bill Pugliano/TNS

By Kara Berg and Julia Cardi
The Detroit News

PONTIAC, Mich. — A jury found James Crumbley, the father of the Oxford High School shooter, guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter Thursday night, drawing to a close the nationally watched trial that raised questions about access to guns and parental accountability.

A jury of six men and six women deliberated for 10 1/2 hours before finding Crumbley, 47, guilty on all four charges. As the verdict was read, the mother of one of the students who died in the shooting sobbed into the shoulder of another parent who also lost his daughter.

Crumbley, who shook his head as the verdict was read, will be sentenced April 9, the same day as his wife, Jennifer, who also was convicted on the same charges. They both face up to 15 years in prison.

Throughout the eight-day trial, prosecutors argued that James Crumbley was the adult “in the best position” to stop the shootings carried out by his son on Nov. 30, 2021, but failed to exercise ordinary care by preventing his son access to the family’s guns. Four students were killed — Madisyn Baldwin, 16; Tate Myre, 16; Justin Shilling, 17; and Hana St. Juliana, 14.

Parents of three of the students who died hugged prosecutors after the verdict. Many were crying. Craig Shilling, Steve St. Juliana and Nicole Beausoleil attended the trial nearly every day, sitting through sometimes graphic surveillance video footage that showed the shooter stalking through Oxford High School’s hallways, firing nearly three dozen bullets in a matter of minutes.

“This verdict does not bring back their children, but it does mark a moment of accountability and will hopefully be another step to address and end gun violence,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said.

Speaking to reporters as part of a news conference at the prosecutor’s office after the verdict, parents of all four children who died applauded the verdict, but several said more needs to be done to keep children safe.

“We can put people on the moon, we can build skyscrapers, huge monuments like the Hoover dam and we can’t keep our kids safe in schools,” said Steve St. Juliana, Hana’s father. “I think people just need to wake up and take action. Stop accepting the excuses. Stop buying the rhetoric.”

Nicole Beausoleil, Madisyn’s mother, thanked prosecutors and the three families whose children also died. She said she didn’t wish to have to make these friendships the way she did, but the families have become her best friends.

“Right now, we have a verdict. We have to execute that verdict. We have to plan for change. We have to reinforce it,” she said.

Prosecutors put 15 witnesses on the stand and presented more than 300 pieces of evidence, from journal entries by the shooter detailing his plans to “shoot up” his school to text messages to a friend, lamenting his mental health. They highlighted what appeared to be an unopened trigger lock in a clear plastic bag that came with the 9mm gun used in the shooting and Crumbley’s decision not to take his son home the morning of the shooting after school officials showed him and his wife a disturbing math worksheet.

“How many times does this kid have to say it (help me)?” McDonald said in her closing argument. “That isn’t enough. He writes the words ‘Help me’ on a piece of paper.”

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, whose agency investigated the shooting and cases against the Crumbleys, said he knows the verdict will again “tear open” a wound. Still, he hoped that given that James Crumbley’s trial is the last criminal trial; “I pray in the days ahead there will be less traumatic moments and more peaceful ones.”

“The unconscionable actions of a troubled son and the inexplicably tragic inaction of two adults to exercise even the most basic responsible parenting for their son forever changed four families and the Oxford community,” he said in a statement.

Mariell Lehman, Crumbley’s attorney, declined to comment after the verdict. She maintained throughout the trial that her client didn’t know his son posed a threat to others, nor did he know his son knew where Crumbley had hidden the 9mm handgun.

“James Crumbley had no idea what his son was capable of, he had no idea what his son was planning and he had absolutely no idea his son had access to the firearm,” Lehman said.

Michigan had no safe storage law for guns before the Oxford shooting, but McDonald argued the case wasn’t about that but about gross negligence.

Crumbley’s conviction comes just weeks after his wife, Jennifer, was found guilty of the same charges. She was the first parent to be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in connection with a mass shooting at a school carried out by their child.

The two trials were different in that Jennifer’s spanned 11 days and included more witnesses who painted her as a disengaged parent more obsessed with caring for the family’s two horses and having an affair than addressing her son’s spiraling mental health needs.

Text messages between Jennifer and the shooter about him fearing a demon was in the house also weren’t allowed during James’ trial because Oakland Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews said there was no proof James was aware of them.

Surveillance footage also portrayed a difference in demeanor between James Crumbley and his wife. In footage played during James’ trial of the Crumbleys in the backseat of a patrol car as police searched their home just hours after the 2021 shooting, James appeared more calm and cooperative with police. He told officers they could “absolutely” search his home for more guns, gave them the code to the family’s gun safe and urged them to “do what you have to do.”

“I’m completely open. I want you guys to do what you have to do,” Crumbley said.

To convict Crumbley, prosecutors had to prove he was grossly negligent in allowing his then 15-year-old son, Ethan Crumbley, access to the gun, didn’t practice ordinary care and that the shooting was foreseeable.

The jury had one question during deliberations about how to define gross negligence and willful neglect.

In all, 16 witnesses were called throughout the trial — 15 by prosecutors and one by the defense. Crumbley did not testify.

Three days into the trial, prosecutors asked for Crumbley’s communications to be restricted to just his attorney and clergy for the duration of the trial because he had been making threats by phone and email, according to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office. Officials have never specified who the threats targeted.

During the trial, prosecutors sought to show Crumbley “did nothing, over and over and over again,” actions that would have interrupted his son’s plans to go through with the shooting, but he failed to secure the 9mm handgun that he bought a few days earlier for his son to use and left the cable lock that came with it unopened.

Throughout the trial, jurors saw surveillance footage of not just the shooting, but James and Jennifer in the back of a patrol car as police searched their home and meeting with police at a substation of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.

When surveillance video of the shooting played out in court without audio, jurors saw the shooter methodically moving through the school’s hallways, shooting one classmate after another. The courtroom was silent as the jury watched; one juror put his hand on his mouth and others reached for tissues.

Crumbley began to cry, looking away from the screen, and did not look back up. Lehman put her hand on his back.

Oxford High School Assistant Principal Kristy Gibson-Marshall, one of two witnesses who testified about the shooting itself, recalled going toward the gunfire when she heard it on Nov. 30, 2021, and seeing one of the victims, Myre, in the highway. Gibson-Marshall was surprised who the shooter was.

“It didn’t seem right to me, because Ethan was a sweet kid, I couldn’t picture that being him,” she said.

Crumbley began crying during Gibson-Marshall’s testimony, wiping his eyes and nose with a tissue.

Where Crumbley stored the family’s guns was a key focus on the trial. The family had three guns, including the 9mm SIG Sauer purchased four days before the shooting.

In the hours right after the shooting, Crumbley told police the 9mm used was hidden in the armoire in its case, with the bullets hidden in a completely different spot underneath some jeans.

Police found the empty gun box and an empty box of ammunition lying on the bed in the master bedroom, testified Adam Stoyek, a detective with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office. The cable lock that came with the gun was in another gun box in the kitchen, seemingly unused, said Brett Brandon, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Brandon said it’s “possible” the cable lock for the 9mm SIG Sauer gun had been opened, but said if it had been used consistently there would be more tearing on the plastic bag it was found in.

Some of the most direct evidence about the shooter’s deteriorating mental health and his access to guns came from the teen himself.

Several text messages exchanges between Ethan Crumbley and his only friend were read during the trial, in which the teen said he needed help.

In one exchange in April 2021, the shooter told his friend that he asked his father to go to the doctor, but his dad just gave him pills and told him “to suck it up.” In another, he said he was “mentally and physically dying.”

“It’s at the point that I’m asking to go to the doctor,” read one text from the shooter to his friend.

Lt. Timothy Willis, a detective with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, also read multiple entries from a small black journal the shooter kept. Found in an Oxford High School bathroom stall after the shooting, it included 22 pages of entries, all of which touched on his plans to “shoot up” the school.

“I have zero HELP for my mental problems and it’s causing me to SHOOT UP THE F-----G SCHOOL,” he wrote.

In one, the teen said he needed “to find” the gun his dad had hidden, suggesting it was inaccessible at one point. But in another, he said he had “access to the gun and ammo” and the shooting would happen.

“I am fully committed to this to now. so yeah,…I’m going to prison for life and many people have about 1 day left to live,” the shooter wrote.

The trial also focused heavily on the events on the day of the shooting and immediately afterward.

The Crumbleys were called into a meeting the morning of Nov. 30, 2021, because of concerning phrases and drawings their son made on a math worksheet, including “the thoughts won’t stop” and “help me” and “blood everywhere.” There were also drawings of a gun and a body with bullet holes.

School officials testified that they didn’t view the shooter as a threat and were more concerned about his mental health.

“Some of the things that concerned me the most is what was written on it,” testified Shawn Hopkins, Ethan Crumbley’s counselor at Oxford High School. "... My initial thought was this student is drawing things that lead me to believe he might hurt himself.”

Hopkins said while he was talking to Jennifer Crumbley about wanting to get the shooter help, that day if possible, James was talking to his son. James Crumbley’s comments “felt appropriate,” Hopkins said.

“(James) mentioned that, ‘you have people you can talk to, you can talk to your counselor, you have your journal, we can talk,’” Hopkins said. “My concern at that point was there wasn’t any action happening.”

Still, when school officials asked the Crumbleys to take the teen home, they said they couldn’t. They had to work.

McDonald, meanwhile, rejected the notion that the trial against Crumbley was about guns or parental accountability. She said it was about a set of facts so “egregious” and someone who failed to practice ordinary care.

She said Crumbley didn’t fail his son. He failed the four students who died.

“I say their names because they matter,” McDonald said, turning to look at the parents of Madisyn, Justin and Hana, who were sitting in the courtroom during her rebuttal Thursday. “They matter. And that is why we’re here.”


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