On November 30, 2021, Ethan Crumbley, a then 15-year-old sophomore at Oxford High School in Oxford Michigan, pulled a semi-automatic SIG Sauer 9mm handgun – an early Christmas present from his father James – out of his backpack and opened fire, killing four students and wounding six others and a teacher.

On December 1, 2021 Ethan Crumbley was charged as an adult with one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of murder and 19 other charges related to the shooting. After initially pleading not guilty, he later pled guilty and was sentenced in December 2023 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On December 3, 2021, Ethan’s parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. They skipped out on their arraignment and after a one-day manhunt were found hiding out 40 miles from their home, with new mobile phones, clothing and $6,000 in cash. Once in court, the parents pled not guilty.

The charges, by definition in these cases, meant, “Involuntary manslaughter is based not on intent, but on careless disregard, extreme recklessness and negligence where the person(s) could have prevented something and did not do so.”

Events Leading Up to the Shooting

Three days prior to the school shooting, Mrs. Crumbley and Ethan took turns shooting the new gun at a range. She wrote on her social media, “a mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present.”

Of significance, Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley had not provided safeguards to prevent Ethan from accessing this gun and two other guns later found by police in the Crumbley home, therefore allowing Ethan full access to the guns along with ammunition.

One day prior to the shooting, a teacher found Ethan doing an online search for ammunition and reported it to school staff. They called Mrs. Crumbley to inform her about the incident, but told her Ethan was not in trouble. After the call, Mrs. Crumbley texted Ethan, saying, “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” That night, Ethan recorded a video declaring his plan to kill students the next day.

On the morning of the shooting, Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley were called into school to meet with school officials after disturbing writings were found on a piece of Ethan’s schoolwork, including the phrases, “the thoughts won’t stop, help me,” “blood everywhere,” and “my life is useless,” along with violent drawings of a gun, a bullet and a shooting victim.

A counselor at the school later testified that during the meeting he recommended the parents remove Ethan from school that day to get him immediate mental health attention. Mrs. Crumbley said they wouldn’t be able to do so because they had work. The counselor testified that Mr. Crumbley did not protest. Ethan was allowed to remain at school with his backpack which had not been searched.1

The Warning Signs

In months and weeks before the shooting Ethan made a series of journal entries, which were read during the involuntary manslaughter trial of his father. Ethan wrote, “the shooting is tomorrow. I have access to the gun and the ammo. I am fully committed to this now.'” And, “I have zero HELP for my mental problems and it’s causing me to (want to) SHOOT UP THE F-ING SCHOOL. I want help but my parents don’t listen to me so I can’t get any help.”

Also in the months leading up to the shooting, Ethan exchanged over 20,000 texts with a friend, often detailing his concerns for his own mental health, including, “I actually asked my dad to take (me) to the Doctor yesterday but he just gave me some pills and told me to ‘Suck it up.'” And, “Like it’s at the point that I am asking to (go to) the doctor. My mom laughed when I told her.” (In her trial, Mrs. Crumbley denied that she laughed and said she didn’t think her son had ever asked to see a doctor.) Ethan sent his friend a video of himself handling a gun in August 2021, with a message reading, “My dad left it out so I thought. ‘Why not’ lol.'”2

Unprecedented Parental Criminal Responsibility

In February 2024 Jennifer Crumbley was convicted of four counts of involuntary manslaughter, making her the first parent ever held directly responsible for a mass shooting committed by their child.

In his opening statement, the prosecutor said, “Jennifer Crumbley didn’t pull the trigger that day, but she is responsible for those deaths.” The prosecutor further argued, “Despite her knowledge of his deteriorating mental crisis, despite her knowledge of his growing social isolation, despite the fact that it’s illegal for a 15-year-old to walk into a gun store and walk out with a handgun by himself, this gun was gifted. Even with all of that,” on the day of the shooting, “Jennifer Crumbley was still given the opportunity to prevent these murders from ever happening. Instead, she chose to do nothing.”3

In Mr. Crumbley’s trial, which took place in March 2024, the prosecutor argued, “James Crumbley is not on trial for what his son did. James Crumbley is on trial for what he did and what he didn’t do.”

Similar to arguments made in Mrs. Crumbley’s case, prosecutors further argued that Mr. Crumbley was “grossly negligent.” He bought a SIG Sauer 9mm gun for his son four days before the attack, failed to properly secure it, ignored his son’s downward-spiraling mental health and did not take “reasonable care” to prevent foreseeable danger.4

Paramount to both cases, the prosecutors argued that the shooting could have been prevented if Mr. or Mrs. Crumbley had listened to the school counselor’s recommendation to take their son out of school the day of the shooting and sought treatment for him, and if they had mentioned to school employees they had just bought Ethan a gun.5 In March 2024, James Crumbley was also found guilty of all four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Both parents have been sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison.6

Potential Parental Accountability in the Future

The trials and guilty verdicts of James and Jennifer Crumbley could set an important precedent to which parents can be held responsible for their children’s criminal behavior.

A CNN analysis of the cases7, along with contributions from criminal defense attorneys, posed the following suppositions:

  • “Every time we have seen… a school (or mass) shooting… we ask what the parents knew. This trial was about red flags, it was answering the question of, ‘What if red flags are waving right before a parent’s eyes and they do not act in a way that we want them to?'”
  • “While the verdict is unprecedented in that it holds a parent directly accountable in a school shooting, a verdict of this nature remains incredibly rare. What’s historic is that parents aren’t generally responsible for unforeseen things that their child could do. But this rose to the level where it was foreseeable.”
  • “What is sort of historic and groundbreaking about the Crumbley prosecution is, in some respects, the ways in which mass shootings have put pressure to extend criminal liability to places prosecutors hadn’t traditionally gone before. But reaching a guilty verdict in cases like these can be incredibly difficult… many people have seen the verdict and have thought that this case somehow opens the floodgates to a number of additional prosecutions of parents for the acts of their minor kids.”
  • Eve Primus, Yale Kamisar Collegiate Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, said, “I actually don’t necessarily agree. There are high requirements prosecutors must meet to prove involuntary manslaughter cases, including that the defendants were grossly negligent and that the deadly outcome could have been foreseen. There were circumstances around Ethan Crumbley’s case that gave the prosecutor a lot of evidence that probably doesn’t exist in a lot of other cases.”

The Trickle Down Effect to Family Court

The guilty verdicts of James and Jennifer Crumbley are a wake-up call for parents and legal professionals. The verdicts serve as a sobering reminder of the impact that parental action, or inaction, can have on their children. They highlight the importance of effective co-parenting, proactive communication, prompt intervention and a holistic approach to addressing the complex needs of children who are experiencing mental health issues. Parents must take warning signs seriously and cannot ignore the red flags waving fiercely in front of them.

Following the Crumbley cases, if divorced (or married) parents are unable or unwilling to co-parent to obtain mental health care for their child, those parents may be exposed to legal liability. As the legal landscape continues to evolve in response to cases like the Crumbley’s, it is essential that the well-being of the children remain paramount in all decisions relating to parental responsibility and divorce.


Relevant Statutes

Florida’s Mental Health Statute in Divorce

2023 Amendment to Section 61.13 (Effective July 1, 2023)

Unless a parenting plan states otherwise, either parent may consent to mental health treatment for a child. An amendment to section 61.13(2)(b)3.a., Florida Statutes effective July 1, 2023, provides as a minimum requirement for a parenting plan approved by the court:

If the court orders shared parental responsibility over health care decisions, either parent may consent to mental health treatment for the child unless stated otherwise in the parenting plan.

See CS for CS for SB 226 and Bill Analysis of the Committee on Rules. See Laws of Florida, Ch. 2023-213.

Florida’s Gun Safety Statute

The 2023 Florida Statutes (including Special Session C)

790.174 Safe storage of firearms required.—

(1) A person who stores or leaves, on a premise under his or her control, a loaded firearm, as defined in s. 790.001, and who knows or reasonably should know that a minor is likely to gain access to the firearm without the lawful permission of the minor’s parent or the person having charge of the minor, or without the supervision required by law, shall keep the firearm in a securely locked box or container or in a location which a reasonable person would believe to be secure or shall secure it with a trigger lock, except when the person is carrying the firearm on his or her body or within such close proximity thereto that he or she can retrieve and use it as easily and quickly as if he or she carried it on his or her body.

(2) It is a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083, if a person violates subsection (1) by failing to store or leave a firearm in the required manner and as a result thereof a minor gains access to the firearm, without the lawful permission of the minor’s parent or the person having charge of the minor, and possesses or exhibits it, without the supervision required by law:

(a) In a public place; or

(b) In a rude, careless, angry, or threatening manner in violation of s. 790.10.

As used in this act, the term “minor” means any person under the age of 16.



¹AP News

²CNN Trial Coverage

³CNN Trial Coverage

CNN Trial Coverage

CNN Trial Coverage

CNN Trial Coverage

CNN Trial Coverage