Should accused Michigan school shooter's parents stand trial over deadly massacre?

ByTrevor Ault ABCNews logo
Wednesday, March 8, 2023
Judge to weigh whether accused MI school shooter's parents should stand trial over deadly massacre
An appeals court weighing whether unprecedented charges against the parents of Michigan school shooter Ethan Crumbley can continue to trial.

A Michigan appeals court is deciding whether to bring charges against the parents of accused school shooter Ethan Crumbley.

It would be a first-of-its-kind case that could set a precedent when it comes to holding parents responsible for crimes committed by their child.

"What things did they do or not do that led to these events, the judge asked in a hearing Wednesday.

James and Jennifer Crumbley are charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors say gross negligence makes them at least partially responsible for their son's November 2021 rampage, when he killed four classmates and injured seven others, including a teacher.

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"What is the precedent we are going to set here? There are a lot of families with kids who are not as stable as the parents would like them to be," Judge Michael Riordan, with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Prosecutors allege the Crumbley's bought the weapon Ethan used in the shooting with Ethan's money, even though prosecutors say he displayed obvious mental health issues and allegedly had hallucinations a month before the shooting. They said in the weeks prior, the school reported to the parents that Ethan was searching for ammunition in class, to which his mother, Jennifer, allegedly texted her son "LOL, I am not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught."

"There were warning sings all over the place," Judge Christopher Yates, with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Officials said the day of the massacre, Ethan was called to a counselor's office for a "disturbing drawing" that showed a gun, a person shot, and phrases like "blood everywhere" and "the thoughts won't stop. Help me."

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Tuesday, the judge questioned why the Crumbleys didn't take him home -- or even hug him -- when they were called to the school that morning.

"James Crumbley did not know that E.C. had access to that firearm," said James' defense attorney, Marielle Lehman.

"He bought him the gun," Judge Riordan said.

"And the first thing he did when he heard about the school shooting was go back home to see if the gun was there. So it was on the top of his head," said Judge Christopher Murray, with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The Crumbley's attorneys admitted the parents made "tremendously bad decisions", but argue they and the school believed Ethan was only a threat to himself. They argue pursuing these charges would set a dangerous precedent, holding parents responsible for any crime committed by a child.

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As a parent, I don't owe a legal duty to every kid at my four kid's schools. I don't owe a duty to every person my child encounters on the street," said another attorney.