A Michigan mother has been convicted of involuntary manslaughter after her failure to prevent her son from committing a tragic school shooting.
Jennifer Crumbley, 45, has become the first parent in the United States to be convicted of manslaughter in connection with a tragic mass shooting committed by their own child.
Prosecutors alleged that she displayed negligence by permitting her son to possess a firearm and disregarding warning indicators.
Her husband, James, is currently undergoing a separate trial for the same charges.
He maintains his innocence.
Their son, who is now 17 years old, is currently serving a life sentence in prison for the tragic incident that occurred at Oxford High School in Michigan on November 30, 2021.
Additionally, seven individuals sustained injuries during the incident.
The judge, addressing the jurors, acknowledged that this was likely an incredibly difficult task for them.
Ms Crumbley displayed a stoic demeanour and kept her gaze fixed downwards as the verdict was announced in Oakland County court on Tuesday.
She faced charges for four counts of involuntary manslaughter, with each count potentially resulting in a maximum sentence of 15 years.
Several family members of the victims in the shooting expressed a sense of relief following the verdict.
“The people have spoken!” Buck Myre, the father of Tate Myre, a 16-year-old who tragically lost his life, shared his thoughts with the BBC in a statement.
“Whether you’re in favour or against the individuals involved, this is the expected functioning of the system.”
The trial revolved around the central issue of whether the mother could have anticipated and averted the tragic crime.
Ms Crumbley and her husband James purchased the firearm their son utilised mere days prior to the tragic incident.
They faced charges from law enforcement shortly after the homicides. Authorities were able to locate the duo in an industrial building in Detroit after receiving valuable information from the public.
They have been held in a county jail for over two years, unable to secure their release.
At first, the parents were expected to be tried together, but in November they requested separate trials. James Crumbley’s trial is set to take place in March.
During the trial, prosecutors provided evidence suggesting that Ethan Crumbley had expressed a need for mental health assistance and had experienced hallucinations. However, they also mentioned that his parents did not seek treatment for him. During her testimony, Ms. Crumbley expressed her belief that her son did not have any mental health issues.
During the morning of the incident, the parents decided to leave a school meeting early to attend to their work commitments, despite being aware of a troubling drawing their son had made. They chose not to bring their 15-year-old son home at that time.
School officials allowed him to return to class without inspecting his rucksack, which happened to contain a firearm.
Shortly after, he tragically took the lives of Hana St Juliana, 14, Myre, 16, and Madisyn Baldwin and Justin Shilling, both 17.
According to some experts, the ongoing cases involving the Crumbleys may result in additional charges for parents whose children are involved in mass shootings.
Expressing a differing opinion, Stephen J Morse, a professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, stated that he did not agree with the verdict. He contended that Ethan Crumbley, having pleaded guilty, should bear sole responsibility for the shooting.
“I acknowledge that she may not have been the most exemplary mother, but it’s important to note that this is not a criminal offence,” he stated.
According to Mr Morse, the decision has the potential to establish an unfavourable pattern, leading courts to search for individuals to blame in comparable circumstances.
Some argue that this case was highly unique and therefore unlikely to have broader implications.
“I don’t believe that this will lead to an increase in parents being charged in ordinary cases, if such cases even exist,” stated Frank Vandervort, a clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan.
“I think the facts of this case are so unique and sort of extreme.”
During the two-week trial, prosecutors argued that Ms. Crumbley disregarded her son’s pleas for assistance, despite privately expressing concern about him in messages.
They revealed exchanges between Ms Crumbley and a man she had a relationship with, where she expressed concerns about her son’s behaviour before the school meeting on the day of the incident.
During her trial, when she testified in her own defence, Ms. Crumbley attempted to shift the responsibility onto her husband for purchasing the gun for their son.
During her testimony, she informed the jurors that her husband took their son to a gun store on the day after Thanksgiving to purchase a handgun as a present.
According to her, she expressed discomfort with being in charge of securing the gun and left James Crumbley to handle the responsibility.
Ethan Crumbley opted not to testify, as it was anticipated that he would exercise his Fifth Amendment right to refrain from self-incrimination.
Families of the victims are voicing their frustration over the perceived lack of legal consequences for school officials compared to Mr. and Ms. Crumbley.
“Why isn’t there more transparency and accountability when it comes to addressing the issues at the school?” Mr Myre shared his thoughts with the BBC on Tuesday following the verdict.
“Does our government operate under a separate set of regulations?”
An independent investigation published recently highlighted several shortcomings within the school system, including the oversight of allowing Ethan to rejoin his class without inspecting his rucksack.
The school district has committed to thoroughly evaluate and enhance its practices and policies in light of the report.