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Oxford shooter’s parents can be tried for manslaughter, court rules

flowers surrounded by the Oxford High School sign
The Michigan Court of Appeals in a Thursday opinion determined the trial could move forward. (Bridge file photo)
  • Michigan Court of Appeals find parents of Oxford shooter can stand trial 
  • It is rare — but not unheard of — for parents to face criminal charges when minors gain access to adult weapons to commit crimes
  • Lawmakers are considering 'safe storage' laws to keep guns away from minors

The parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley can stand trial for allowing their son access to firearms despite signs of troubling behavior ahead of the 2021 mass shooting, the Michigan Court of Appeals determined Thursday.

Ethan Crumbley, then 15, on Nov. 30, 2021 brought a gun he’d gotten as a present from his parents to school, killing four Oxford High School students and injuring seven other people.


His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley have been charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter. They have maintained that they were not aware their son was plotting a mass shooting and should not be held responsible.


Prosecutors have argued that because the Crumbleys gave their son, a minor, the gun and ignored multiple warning signs — including a meeting with school officials about disturbing behavior hours before the shooting — they should be held partially responsible for the school shooting. 

Ethan Crumbley pleaded guilty to all 24 charges against him, including first-degree murder and terrorism causing death, in October 2022. He is awaiting sentencing.

In a Thursday opinion, the Court of Appeals determined the trial court had ample evidence that Jennifer and James Crumbley could stand trial, finding that they were fully aware of “uniquely troubling facts” that, if acted upon, might have prevented the deaths. 

Evidence provided by prosecutors showed the Crumbleys had been contacted by school officials about disturbing behavior by Ethan Crumbley, including using his phone to look up ammunition on the internet and drawing violent images of a gun and an injured body. 

The Crumbleys had also purchased a gun for their son for Christmas and did not connect him with mental health services. Text messages sent by Ethan Crumbley to a friend cited in court documents indicate that he had asked his parents for medical help, but was refused.

Court evidence indicates Ethan Crumbley began showing signs of mental instability by early 2021, both in conversations to his parents and to a friend and in journal entries. The school’s counselor had also expressed concern about Ethan Crumbley’s mental state to his parents.

“One of the few reasonably foreseeable outcomes of failing to secure the firearm that was gifted to (Ethan Crumbley) was that it would be accessible to EC and that, in his mentally deteriorated condition, he might use it in unlawful ways,” the court opinion written by Judge Christopher Murray reads. 

Judge Michael Riordan, in a concurring opinion, wrote that in a typical case, parents of a child who committed a crime cannot be held criminally liable — but in the Crumbley’s case, they were shown drawings from their son depicting gun violence hours before the Oxford shooting took place.

“In other words, there was visual evidence, known by defendants, that (Ethan Crumbley) was contemplating the act of gunshot wounds being inflicted upon someone,” Riordan wrote, later adding that the drawing and other evidence, as well as the parents’ knowledge that their son had access to a weapon, demonstrated that Ethan Crumbley’s conduct was “reasonably foreseeable.” 

It is rare — but not unheard of — for parents to face criminal charges when their children or other minors gain access to adult weapons to commit crimes.

In 2000, a Flint man pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter after a 6-year-old boy he lived with used a handgun to kill a classmate at school. In more recent years, some metro Detroit parents have faced child abuse charges after non-fatal shootings by their kids.


A 1994 Michigan law established criminal liability for a parent who knowingly allows their child to commit a gun crime at school. It is a misdemeanor, punishable by probation, community services or a fine of up to $2,000. 

In Lansing, lawmakers have cited the Oxford shooting while considering bills that would hold gun owners liable if they did not properly store a gun that was used by a minor to hurt or kill someone. 

The plan circulating in the Legislature would also exempt firearm safety equipment like gun safes and locking devices from the state sales tax to encourage such purchases. 

The Michigan House moved “safe storage” legislation forward in a series of bipartisan Wednesday night votes. Those bills are part of a package lawmakers are currently debating to require universal background checks for gun purchases, safe storage and red flag laws allowing judges to temporarily confiscate a gun from someone posing a risk to others or themselves.

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