The Parents Of Michigan School Shooter Ethan Crumbley Are Charged…Good [Expanded And Updated]

ethan-crumbley-parents

With rights come responsibilities. I have never been able to understand why law enforcement has been so reluctant to hold the owners and purchasers of guns that are used in crimes criminally responsible when those weapons fall into the wrong hands. Maybe this case will finally be a tipping point, one that should have tipped long ago, and perhaps in other areas of parental negligence other than gun crimes.

Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old accused of murdering four students at a high school in Michigan (we are supposed to say that, but there is no question, and no doubt, that he’s guilty) have been charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter. The prosecutor laid out the reasons in a detailed statement. It seems awfully persuasive to me.

Among the facts cited in Oakland County, Michigan’s prosecutor Karen McDonald:

  • James Crumbley purchased the SIG Sauer 9-millimeter model SP2022 from Acme Shooting Goods in Oxford, Michigan on Noember26, 2021 with his son Ethan present. (The gun was considered an early Christmas gift.)

  • Ethan Crumbley’s subsequent social media posts included photos of a semiautomatic handgun, along with the caption, “Just got my new beauty today,” including an emoji with hearts.

  • The day before the shooting, a teacher at  Oxford High School observed Ethan searching ammunition on his cellphone during class and reported this to school officials.The teen’s forbidden internet search was reported to Ethan’s mother viw phone, with no response. voice mail up with an email but received no response from either parent. Jennifer Crumbley texted  with her so that day regarding his conduct, saying: “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”

Hey, sharp ethics and civics instruction there, Mom! That’s the sure way to raise a sociopath.

  • On Nov. 30, 2021, the morning of the shooting,  Ethan Crumbley’s teacher discovered a note on Ethan’s desk.  She took a picture of it, because the note included a drawing of a semiautomatic handgun pointing at the words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” It also included a drawing of a bullet with words above it reading, “Blood everywhere.” Between the  the gun and the bullet was a drawing of a person has two bullet wounds and is bleeding.  Below that  a drawing of a laughing emoji, and below that are the words, “My life is useless” and “The world is dead.”
  • The school administrators, alarmed,  called James and Jennifer Crumbley in for an immediate conference, along with Ethan and his backpack. Ethan had already altered to note, scratching out drawings of the gun and the bloody figure, as well as the words, “Help me,”  “My life is useless,” “The world is dead,” and “Blood everywhere.”

Nothing to be concerned about, then! All fixed!

  •  James and Jennifer Crumbley were shown the original drawing as photographed by the teacher, and were told that they were required to get their son into counseling within 48 hours. The parents didn’t ask their son if he had his gun with him (he did) or where his gun was. (The SIG Sauer 9-millimeter handgun had been  stored unlocked in a drawer in the parents’ bedroom.) They did not ask him to open his backpack.  They also opposed their son leaving the school, so he was sent back to the the classroom.

Later that day, Ethan entered a bathroom wearing his backpack, then came out  shooting. He killed four students, and wounded six more as well as   a 47-year-old teacher.

Observations:

  • I believe Ethics Alarms first raised the the matter of holding gun-owners responsible for deaths and crimes resulting from their negligence in the post a few years ago about the woman killed when her toddler grabbed a gun from her purse and fired. Maybe there was an earlier post; I haven’t checked. In other school shootings, the shooter has taken guns that were owned by parents or relatives and insufficiently stored. I see no reason why such owners shouldn’t be held criminally liable for this. A right to own a gun does not include a right to be reckless with it.
  • This is obviously an extreme situation, and in that regard, prosecution of the parents should have been an easy call.
  • It is astounding that Ethan was allowed to return to class. The school administrators have to be held civilly liable, at least.

UPDATE: I think the parents are culpable and responsible, which is why I will stick with “good.” However, former U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy made a strong case on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News show that the prosecution won’t stand up to a challenge:

Andrew McCarthy:

“I really think it’s outrageous, I mean I understand it because people are very hot, emotions are very raw, this was a heinous heinous act….It’s going to be the subject of a prosecution where the kid who did the shooting who’s going to be treated as an adult which the prosecutors have the discretion to do is appropriately looking at multiple life counts and attempted murder counts, you know he can’t live long enough to serve the number of years that are going to be imposed in this case but we’re not supposed to make criminal law on the fly…

And the state of Michigan has considered a number of times enacting a law, this child access prevention law that many states have adopted which would make criminal what happened here which was the that the parents allowed the child to get access to the weapon.  But the state of Michigan has decided not to enact that law. And you can argue that that’s a good thing or a bad thing but the fact is it’s a thing and it’s up to the legislature to make the criminal law so what happened here is they don’t have a law to prosecute what the parents did even though the legislature’s considered it and not enacted it. So at a time when everybody’s hot and emotions are raw, prosecutors are creating a crime on the fly to attach to these parents.  And if you think about it, it doesn’t make much more sense to accuse them of complicity in murder, any more than it makes sense to accuse the school officials of murder. I mean, yes, everybody dropped the ball here but let’s be real about who committed the murder and who didn’t….

I’ve never heard of a case where you see parents get charged under circumstances where there’s no evidence that they had any complicity in a plan or something where you know there was an actual objective to kill people and I’ve seen a lot of cases like this and they’re… You want to wring the necks of the people who are involved in them….I was involved, for example, in terrorism investigations where people sold components that were obviously components for explosives like explosive powder to people who were very suspicious characters and wanted to pay in cash and made you think that, you know, boy these guys must be up to no good. Nobody thought that once a building got bombed and people got killed that the store owners who lawfully sold these components to these suspicious characters should have been charged with terrorism crimes even though you wanted to grab each of them by the lapels and say what on earth were you thinking.”

McCarthy is a far more experienced and credentialed lawyer than I, and I defer to his analysis from a legal standpoint. Ethically, I would not be troubled at all to see the parents serve jail time, if a conviction survives appeal. But to be an ethical prosecution, the prosecutors must have a good faith belief that the conduct being prosecuted fits the law.

I hope they’re right.

29 thoughts on “The Parents Of Michigan School Shooter Ethan Crumbley Are Charged…Good [Expanded And Updated]

  1. If everything I’ve heard and read about the parents part in delivering the pistol to the teenager and their complete lack of responsibility surrounding the firearm are true then I really hope the charges stick and these people are put away for a very long time.

  2. One thing that appears to be missing: Did the school not check his backpack as a matter of course(or his locker)?

    It seems to me that they had probable cause to do so.

  3. How tragic.

    My heart goes out to the kid. What a missed opportunity for a child in a lot of pain crying out for help.

    I think the school
    Shoal be held responsible too.

    The parents OBVIOUSLY were missing the DEEP PAIN their son was in. And the school SHOULD be able to RECOGNIZE IT and be the PROFESSIONALS in the room who are trained to take the needed actions.

    I’ve worked with kids for decades and any kids doing that, has MAJOR pain and issues and requires immediate intervention.

    They school knew it by calling the parents and trying. But I suppose one hopes they realize a child doing that is NOT in an environment where the parents are tuned into their pain and troubles.

    Michigan has been a shit show during the pandemic and we all know depression. And hopelessness amount kids is up. (As well as adults) if not we’re not paying attention.

    The whole thing is a tragedy and more than ever this world needs LOVE and human connection. People are confused and have been manipulated and abused by leaders locking them in, and imposing things on them, creating terror and it’s just at times almost too much to think about.

    We must as a people make a conscious effort EVERY DAY to tune into gratitude, love, and SEE each other and reach out more than ever.

    Despair is high and hopelessness a dark hole that’s often impossible to climb out alone.

    This is a big wake up call.

    Another one.

    Will we? Will I?

    • The parents should home school this kid !
      They knew he was a trouble kid. School is a place to learn skills. School is not a parent ! Parents are responsible to raise a good adult.

  4. My comment got eaten.

    I’m growing weary. I’m sure you are too.

    I often don’t tell you anymore but this story really is important and hopefully my comment is too.

      • Sometimes long or multiple occurances of capital letters can trigger spam filters. I don’t know anything about WordPress spam filters but I just thought I’d mention it.

  5. As far as the school administrators go, why not hold them criminally liable too?

    They, more than Ethan’s parents, had a duty to safeguard the children who were ultimately killed.

    -Jut

  6. I have never been able to understand why law enforcement has been so reluctant to hold the owners and purchasers of guns that are used in crimes criminally responsible when those weapons fall into the wrong hands.

    As a general rule, you are not responsible for what third parties do to your property without your consent. There are exceptions to this general rule; the fact that the propertty in question is a gun should not be an exception.

    I believe Ethics Alarms first raised the the matter of holding gun-owners responsible for deaths and crimes resulting from their negligence in the post a few years ago about the woman killed when her toddler grabbed a gun from her purse and fired.

    Neither Ethan Crumbley nor Adam Toledo were toddlers.

    Toddlers are too young and immature to know the consequences of behavior, while Crumbley and Toledo are presumed to have, or have had, enough maturity to significantly understand the consequences of their actions (though presumably less than an adult).

    These are far different situations.

    By sharp contrast, the Crumbley and Toledo cases are very much alike.

    Regarding the Toledo case, he was walking around the streets of Chicago at 2:30 AM with an unrelated adult who had been shooting at moving cars.

    http://web.archive.org/web/20210424220729/https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/the-killing-of-adam-toledo-and-the-colliding-cycles-of-violence-in-chicago

    I wonder if Toledo’s mother should be prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter.

    • “As a general rule, you are not responsible for what third parties do to your property without your consent.”

      Laws are frequently used to make it clear where a general rule doesn’t apply, and shouldn’t. Leaving guns for teenagers to find and use is arguably MORE irresponsible than leaving them for toddlers.

      • Arguably, legislation that requires safe storage in combination with teenagers endangers those very teens who have repelled violent invaders while home alone or come to the aid of a parent struggling with an attacker.

        Certainly this case is loaded with circumstances where discretion would have ensured a better outcome, but legislating a forced outcome needs to be done narrowly so it doesn’t harm families that don’t exhibit the problematic circumstances.

  7. If we want to go down this path, I’d feel better if it was written properly into legislation, with explicit exceptions for people who made a legitimate, good faith effort to secure their weapons. Obviously guns can be stolen, whether while in use (from cars during hunting trips or on the way to or from firing ranges, or during robberies where the victim tried to defend themselves and was disarmed) or, especially in the case of teenagers, if someone is able to discover the keys or combo to a gun safe without the owner knowing. I’m afraid it’s the sort of precedent that could be used by the gun control crowd to harass responsible gun owners for the dedicated illegal behavior of others, the same way they’re trying to harass manufacturer. There should be clear cut practices that ensure that a gun owner will not be charged if the gun is legitimately stolen, or if a family member gains access in spite of the owner following clearly outlined measures to prevent that.

    That said, there are plenty egregious cases like this one where it makes sense.

    With regards to the kid’s behavior that day, my worry is this will lead to another post-Columbine panic, where a huge amount of time and resources were spent harassing teenagers who wore black trench-coats or loathed their peers or wrote any kind of story with R-rated violence. I was a teenager at the time and friends with the kinds of people who got caught up in that who were perfectly nice weirdos suffering from typical teenage narcissism and mood swings and rebellion. Most teenagers are narcissists, unstable due to hormones, and lacking a fully developed system of moral judgement. Figuring out which kid is going to act on that to become a danger (whether we’re talking about an edgelord shooting up the school or a highschool football player raping a girl or an unpopular kid killing themselves) is a delicate process and much harder in the moment than in hindsight. The only thing that prevents me from excusing the adults here is that the kid actually did have unfettered access to a gun, and I sincerely hope people can recognize that distinction this time.

    • “my worry is this will lead to another post-Columbine panic”

      Of course it will. And Don Lemon will have another “town meeting” where everyone blames the NRA and argues for “sensible gun reforms,” none of which would have stopped this kid.

      Not worth worrying about, because it’s a sure thing.

    • There should be clear cut practices that ensure that a gun owner will not be charged if the gun is legitimately stolen, or if a family member gains access in spite of the owner following clearly outlined measures to prevent that.

      If the family member is an adult, there should be no charges at all.

      It is different with children, due to our longstanding tradition of holding parents responsible for their children’s behavior under certain circumstances, and these circumstances are present in both the Crumbley and Toledo cases.

  8. This tale is a spiraling story of mis; mal; and non-communication combined with passing the buck. Questions to be asked: Did the gun shop salesman know the father was buying the gun for someone who could not legally possess it? Did the father know that his son was a ticking time bomb of deep psychic disturbance? There must have been signs beside the note on his desk found by the teacher. The mother took the incident to be worthy of Laughing. Why were the police not immediately called? What happened to “see something, say something?”

  9. Feels like a “do something” argument.

    Lots of people have guns in their home (what, something like a gun for nearly every citizen as I recall), all ages, life goes on without incident. From what I gather thus far, a mentally disturbed young man presented disturbing signs with both parents and administrators not taking the proper steps. And not in hindsight, at that time. They all whiffed.

    Criminally prosecuting negligence as a strategy “for a gun in the home” scenarios feels like an awfully slippery slope, so it makes sense to me there aren’t more prosecutions of it.

    Using the incident of the toddler has me interpreting you believe it should be a more frequent occurrence, but using this one is a bad example – anybody who has had kids knows they get in to absolutely EVERYTHING, and anybody who can’t reasonably secure a fire arm in that instance, well, I’d argue Darwin awards there. Tragic, but something for the state to prosecute?

    Both cases are extreme negligence that reflect on them, not symptomatic of a genuinely systematic problem in society (one with hundreds of millions of guns) that needs addressed at large by government. We already see prosecutorial misconduct in some of these cities, encouraging them to harass citizenry more seems a bad idea. What about the parents that do everything possible and it still happens? The fact it happens is cause to prosecute? I had good kids, but during the teenage years it was real hard to keep one of them from going off the rails – should I be prosecuted if a gun I owned was used in a crime by said kid? Who defines what reasonable steps are to keep my firearm secure?

    In this case, the question becomes how aware were the parents, or how aware should they have been (i.e. lots of prior disturbing activity exhibited by the young man) of their sons state of mind? I’ll tell you I was quite surprised at the depth of disturbing activity of one of my offspring at the time it became apparent. If the parents here weren’t aware, the “don’t get caught” could have as easily applied to the kid playing fantasy football during class, so I won’t hang my hat on that.

    The critical event was the morning of, where everybody failed.

    The event of ammunition shopping in class, the note, etc should have been a large sign for the parents to rethink everything regarding the kid having a gun, and, at a minimum volunteering to take the kid out of school for a day or two and figuring out what the hell was going on.

    The school could’ve, depending on state law, have forcibly had the kid hauled in for evaluation – and if not evaluation, pretty sure they could’ve suspended him and had law enforcement walk everybody out.

    In this case, I’m still not sure I’m in agreement with the prosecution, it depends on how much behavior the kid exhibited in the weeks and months prior. What did they know, and when did they know it?

    And if they’re going to be charged with IM, why wouldn’t the school administrators be an accessory of some sort? They had a duty, obligation, and presumably authority to remove the kid from the premises. Had they gotten reports from teachers about the kids behavior and had other meetings with the parents? Even so, the morning of, they had the opportunity to do something, and didn’t.

    They didn’t buy the kid the gun, the parents did, but they failed just as badly.

    The time to “do something” was horribly missed. I don’t envy anyone involved.

    • Criminally prosecuting negligence as a strategy “for a gun in the home” scenarios feels like an awfully slippery slope, so it makes sense to me there aren’t more prosecutions of it.

      What’s slippery about it? It’s no more slippery than any criminal negligence standards where dangerous instrumentalists are involved. If you keep a dangerous animal in your home, there is strict liability if it kills someone. That slope doesn’t extend to other pets, unless there was reason to think they were dangerous. If you know or should know your kid is a killer and do nothing, you should be treated as criminally liable.

      “…anybody who has had kids knows they get in to absolutely EVERYTHING, and anybody who can’t reasonably secure a fire arm in that instance, well, I’d argue Darwin awards there. Tragic, but something for the state to prosecute?”

      If you know kids get into everything, then it is negligent and reckless to have things kids can get into and hurt themselves and others. What’s hard about that? If you can’t secure such dangerous things, don’t have them in the house. If you have to have them, don’t have kids.

      My dad had guns in the house. First, we were told never to touch them. Second, we were taught the proper rules for handling guns. Third, they weren’t loaded. Fourth,if there was ammunition for them, I never knew where it was. Fifth, they were locked up, except two that were ornamental and not functioning.

      Using the incident of the toddler has me interpreting you believe it should be a more frequent occurrence, but using this one is a bad example – anybody who has had kids knows they get in to absolutely EVERYTHING, and anybody who can’t reasonably secure a fire arm in that instance, well, I’d argue Darwin awards there. Tragic, but something for the state to prosecute?

      Of course. That’s what criminal negligence is.

      • “If you know or should know your kid is a killer and do nothing, you should be treated as criminally liable.”

        And human beings are a lot more complex than animals – animals are a fairly easy read, and they don’t hide anything from parents. We were all over our kid who was having issues, and I was still surprised at the depth to which their activities had sunk. Hardest time of our lives, tremendous stress on the entire family, trying hard for months and months. A person is not a product with strictly defined attributes, or an animal one can read. And if you’re willing to charge the parents with negligence, what about any other person who knew or should’ve known the kid was going to gun people down (McCarthy repeat… apologies for the redundancy)?

        I mean, if the parents were in on his murderous plans and thought, well, the kid really wants to accomplish something, let’s help him out and get him a gun, that would be one thing, and probably chargeable under some sort of criminal conspiracy law.

        The school found the note, called the parents, and then they all whiffed. I can’t believe they all screwed up so badly, frankly, so in sentiment, I agree with you, but putting that out as a law opens us all up to being prosecuted for not being mind readers and prophets (keeping in mind that actual prophets are 100% accurate).

        For better or worse, we’re not simple defective/dangerous products or animals that are just acting on fairly predictable instinct.

    • … should have been a large sign for the parents to rethink everything regarding the kid having a gun, and, at a minimum volunteering to take the kid out of school for a day or two and figuring out what the hell was going on.
      THIS! ^^^ If the parents weren’t absolutely certain that the pistol was where they thought it was (and obviously they weren’t),the obvious reaction would have been to at least pick up the kid’s backpack and say “We’re taking him home and taking care of this”. It would have cost them nothing. Any lesser response was criminally negligent.

  10. For six years in the 1990s I was supervisor of my agency’s Gang Offender Community Action Program and our School Resource Officer program, so I have dealt with numerous situations involving troubled and sometimes outright dangerous kids in the school environment. Very seldom were their parents even remotely aware of all the chaos that was going on in their children’s lives. Sometimes this involved deliberate secrecy and subterfuge by the kids, sometimes it was just parental naivete and sometimes it was willful ignorance. But to be made aware of danger, as in this case, and do little or nothing to mitigate it certainly raises the deserved consequences for inaction.
    I am definitely an advocate for exercising one’s Second Amendment rights. That being said, being safe with firearms, even a lot of firearms, just isn’t that hard, it only requires conscientious intention and execution. The past few years have seen a tremendous rise in the number of first-time firearms purchasers, people who were not part of the so-called “gun culture” but decided for whatever reason that they now needed to buy a gun. Unfortunately, a lot of these people did not grow up around firearms and hunting and were not trained in firearms safety since youth, and perhaps don’t take the responsibilities of firearms ownership and safety as seriously as long-time shooters do.

  11. As tragic as the situation is, and even with some negligence on the parents part, I am just not seeing manslaughter here.

    Buying a firearm for an underage child is not that uncommon. Many parents buy their kids guns and they get to use it under supervision until they are old enough to legally posses it. There is nothing illegal about him using it with adult supervision.

    Him searching for ammo is a big nothing to me.

    The drawings are more concerning, but that seems more on the school to me than the parents. They get called to the school, and told to get him into counseling within 48 hours. The school does not insist that he goes home until he gets counseling. That seems like it is more on the school to me. The school is just as liable for not insisting he leave, or failing to search his bag. The school has more expertise on this kind of thing than a parent. I would not expect a parent to have the requisite psychology knowledge to know that this is an immediate threat to safety, I would expect the school to have that knowledge.

    Unless there is other evidence of his mental state being known to the parents beforehand then I am not seeing the requisite gross negligence. Not only that but the parents must commit the act that is responsible for the death(s) for manslaughter. I don’t see that here. If we are saying it is them knowing of his mental state and not doing enough, then the school administrators are just as culpable here. We gonna see the Vice Principal charged here?

Leave a Reply to Jack Marshall Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.