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Michigan Appeals Court Rules Parents of School Shooter Can Stand Trial for Manslaughter

A Michigan Appeals Court has ruled that the parents of a high school shooter can stand trial for manslaughter.

On November 30, 2021, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley brought a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun to Oxford High School. He murdered four students and injured seven people, including a teacher.

On Thursday, the appeals court’s opinion stated that the shooting would not have happened if he had not been provided with the gun by his parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley — or if they had taken him out of school that day.

The parents had been called to the school over their son drawing pictures of a person with gunshot wounds and an image of the gun they had gifted him for Christmas. He had written, “the thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” “My life is useless,” “the world is dead,” and “Blood everywhere.”

After being called to the school, the parents were told by the school principal that he should be brought to a therapist or doctor that day. Jennifer objected to that suggestion, saying that it was impossible because she and James had to return to work.

The school counselor, Shawn Hopkins, noted that the parents did not speak to or hug their son before, during, or after the meeting.

The opinion explains, “Hopkins testified that Jennifer abruptly asked if the meeting was done, and Hopkins checked with Ejack before everyone left. On their way out, neither defendant hugged or said goodbye to EC. Hopkins, though, told EC, ‘I just want you to know, I care about you,’ because he did not believe EC was getting parental support. Hopkins doubted whether defendants planned to get EC help, so he planned to meet with EC the next morning to see how he was doing. Neither Ejack, Hopkins, nor defendants asked to or looked inside EC’s backpack, which contained his journal and the SIG Sauer.”

The shooting took place just hours later.

The court found that the parents’ “actions and inactions were inexorably intertwined” with what their son did.

“This connection exists not simply because of the parent-child relationship but also because of the facts showing that defendants were actively involved in [Ethan Crumbley’s] mental state remaining untreated, that they provided him with the weapon used to kill the victims, and that they refused to remove him from the situation that led directly to the shootings,” the opinion stated.

The court wrote that it shares the “defendants’ concern about the potential for this decision to be applied in the future to parents whose situation viz-a-viz their child’s intentional conduct is not as closely tied together, and/or the warning signs and evidence were not as substantial as they are here. But those concerns are significantly diminished by several well-established principles.”

“First, the principle that grossly negligent or intentional acts are generally superseding causes remains intact,” the opinion says. “We simply hold that with these unique facts, and in this procedural posture and applicable standard of review, this case falls outside the general rule regarding intentional acts because EC’s acts were reasonably foreseeable, and that is the ultimate test that must be applied.”

Ethan Crumbley has pleaded guilty to terrorism and murder charges and may face life in prison.

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