A Michigan jury has found Jennifer Crumbley guilty of manslaughter in the Oxford High School shooting, after she bought her teenage son a firearm and ignored multiple warning signs about his disturbing behaviour in the lead-up to the deadly attack.
Jurors reached the verdict on Tuesday morning after deliberating for more than 10 hours.
Crumbley, 45, had pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the case, one for each of the four classmates – Madiyson Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Justin Shilling, 17; and Hana St. Juliana, 14 – murdered by her son.
She sat quietly and closed her eyes as the verdicts were read out in court.
Throughout her trial, the prosecution accused Crumbley of ignoring her son’s “downward spiral” and making the 9mm handgun used in the rampage accessible in their home.
Just four days before the massacre, Ethan and his father, James Crumbley, had gone to a gun store to purchase the gun.
Not long after, Crumbley took her son to the shooting range, where the 15-year-old allegedly taught her how to shoot. Throughout the trial, the defence emphasised her husband’s love of guns and argued that she would defer to him when it came to firearms, including the storage of the 9mm handgun.
The defence also argued that Crumbley was a “hypervigilant” mother who cared about her son very much. Despite this, the defence said, it was “not on her radar” that his mental condition had declined, blaming the school for not sharing concerns they had about the high school sophomore with his mother.
Central to the case was the meeting between the Crumbley parents and school officials that took place mere hours before the shooting.
On the morning of 30 November 2021, a teacher had noticed a disturbing drawing by Ethan, prompting school administrators to call in his parents for a meeting and consult them about whether he should stay in school or be taken home.
The parents decided he should stay in school, where he killed four of his classmates hours later.
The defence underscored that school staff gave Crumbley a choice and didn’t force her to take her son home.
However, a videotaped interview with police in the aftermath of the attack was played in court, showing Crumbley admitting: “I really wish we took him home.”
In an attempt to cut into the defence’s description of Crumbley being a “hypervigilant” mom, the prosecution tried to draw attention to how much time and money the mother dedicated to her horses and to other distractions — including her affair with her former lover.
Brian Meloche, Crumbley’s long-time friend, testified that he and Crumbley had a six-month extramarital affair starting in the spring of 2021. Around this same time, Ethan’s mental health started to decline, the prosecution claimed. His grandmother passed away in April 2021 and his mother told a friend that he was “acting depressed”.
Beyond this affair, Crumbley’s digital footprint also showed that she was using the adultery website AdultFriendFinder.
Despite telling school staff that Ethan should remain in school since both she and her husband had to return to work that day, Mr Meloche testified that Crumbley had text him saying she was free to meet up with him.
She had also told her boss before she left that she would be back in an hour, “putting a limit” on the meeting’s time span, the prosecution said. Crumbley’s boss also testified that she could have stayed home on the day of the shooting.
Prosecutors also pointed out that Mr Crumbley was a DoorDash driver at the time, and so their son could have accompanied him that day.
In the days after the mass shooting, the Crumbley parents started acting strangely. They checked into a hotel — the defence claiming it was because their house was surrounded by media and they were receiving death threats. They also withdrew huge amounts of cash and bought multiple burner phones, jurors heard.
The pair then left home and went to Crumbley’s friend’s artist studio, where they were eventually arrested on 4 December 2021 following a manhunt – after they failed to turn themselved into authorities when charges were filed the day before.
In closing arguments, the prosecution stressed that Crumbley could have taken “tragically small” steps that would have prevented the shooting.
Oakland Prosecutor Karen McDonald argued that Crumbley could have stopped by their home to check the gun was where it should have been following the meeting at the high school. She could have locked the gun away out of reach of her son, she could have taken him home from school, she could have taken him to work, she could have told the school that they had gifted him a gun.
Noting that Crumbley “didn’t engage” with her son during the school meeting, the prosecutor said the mother could have simply told her son then: “I care about you, I love you.”
Defence attorney Shannon Smith argued in her closing arguments that Crumbley is “not a perfect person or a perfect parent” and that the events that transpired could not have been anticipated.
Ms Smith asked the court: “Can parents really be responsible for everything their children do? Especially when it’s not foreseeable?”
She continued, “It was unforeseeable. No one expected this. No one could have expected this — including Mrs Crumbley.”
Crumbley took the stand last week to deliver a rather unemotional testimony — except when she discussed her son or the shooting that he committed.
“That was the hardest thing I had to stomach – that my child harmed and killed other people,” Crumbley said, stumbling over the last few words and uttering them quietly.
When asked if she would change what had happened if she could, Crumbley said, “Oh absolutely. I wish he would’ve killed us instead.”