James Crumbley Guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter in Oxford High School Shooting

The decision in Crumbley’s case follows the February conviction of Crumbley’s wife, Jennifer Crumbley, on the same charges.

James Crumbley enters the Oakland County Courtroom of Cheryl Matthews on Wednesday March, 13, 2024 during his trial on four counts of involuntary manslaughter for the four students killed in the 2021 Oxford High School shooting perpetrated by his son Ethan Crumbley. (Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press via AP, Pool)

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James Crumbley, the father of the Oxford High School shooter, was found guilty Thursday of involuntary manslaughter for his role in the killings of four students in 2021.

The verdict will not bring back anyone’s children, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said at a press conference after the verdict was read, flanked by the parents of the students who were killed.

“I will forever remain in awe of their strength and perseverance that they have shown in the last two and a half years,” McDonald said. “It’s a privilege to do this and we know that it can’t take the pain away, but It’s one small step towards accountability.”

The decision in Crumbley’s case follows the February conviction of Crumbley’s wife, Jennifer Crumbley, on the same charges, one involuntary manslaughter charge for each child their son killed. The cases mark the first time in the U.S. parents of a mass shooter have been held directly responsible for the deaths their child caused.

The shooter was sentenced to life without parole in December.

The prosecution had the task of proving that Crumbley’s actions or inactions made the shooting possible, as Crumbley had the legal duty as a parent to prevent his child from harming others and should’ve taken reasonable actions to mitigate possible harm.

Nicole Beausoleil, the mother of Madisyn Baldwin who was killed in the shooting, thanked the other parents standing with her over the course of the two and a half years since the shooting for their friendship and support through all three prosecutions. All four families of the victims are forever changed and will continue fighting for accountability on behalf of their children, she said.

“This is not just a verdict for attention or media,” Beausoleil said at the press conference. “This is a verdict that actually needs to be put to the platform that it is: How are we going to use this verdict to actually make that change?”

For five days, starting last week, witnesses relayed the events leading up to and following the Nov. 30, 2021, shooting at Oxford High School, as well as the horror and violence individuals faced as James Crumbley’s son opened fired at teachers and students, injuring seven people and killing four of his classmates: Baldwin, Hana St. Julianna, Justin Shilling and Tate Myre.

There were several small actions Crumbley could have taken to prevent the shooting and signs of mental distress from his son that a parent should have acknowledged and sought out help for, McDonald said in her closing arguments Wednesday.

“There were 1,800 students at Oxford High School. There was one parent who suspected that their son was the school shooter and it was James Crumbley,” McDonald said, replaying the 911 call Crumbley made after becoming aware of the shooting, telling the operator that a gun was missing from his house.

Crumbley’s lawyer, Mariell Lehman, told the jury during her closing arguments that although the prosecution has shown them “haunting things; tragic things,” they have not shown evidence that Crumbly knew that his son was a danger to others. If they had evidence to prove Crumbley knew what his son was planning, jurors would have seen it.

“The prosecution wants you to find that James could foresee that his son was a danger to others and that James acted in a grossly negligent manner or breached a duty that he owed to other people, despite having no information at the time,” Lehman said during her closing arguments. “You saw no evidence that James had any knowledge that his son was a danger to anyone. You heard no testimony and saw no evidence that James Crumbley knew what his son was planning.”

Crumbley had bought his son the gun used in the shooting four days before the killings, having taken him to the shooting range on several occasions and supervising his usage there.

But during Crumbley’s trial, as well as that of Jennifer Crumbley, questions were raised on whether the gun was secured in such a way to deter the shooter for easily accessing it.

Ultimately, it would have taken “just one tragically small measure of ordinary care to avoid four deaths” McDonald said calling attention to the meeting the Crumbleys were called to at the school the day of the shooting after the shooter drew a sketch of the gun his father had bought him days prior on his math assignment.

Shawn Hopkins, the school counselor at the meeting the day of the shooting, testified during Jennifer Crumbley’s trial that he was not informed that James Crumbley had bought his son a gun recently, or that their son would be able to access it. In addition to the drawing of the gun, there was a drawing of a body with blood coming out of it and a few statements including “the thoughts won’t stop” and “help me.”

Hopkins said on Monday that he didn’t tell either parent that they absolutely had to take their son home and the shooter expressed interest in returning class. Hopkins said he did insist that the parents seek out mental health care for their son who had told him that he was experiencing sadness over the recent death of his dog and grandma and was missing his friend who had moved away.

And though neither parent told their son at the meeting that they cared about him after Hopkins told him at the end that he cared about him, Hopkins said James Crumbley did speak to the shooter.

“He was talking to his son and mentioned that, you know, ‘You have people you can talk to; you can talk to your counselor; you have your journal; we talk’ and it felt appropriate at that time,” Hopkins said.

If the shooting had not happened, Hopkins said it was his plan to check in with the shooter to see if his parents had sought out any mental health services for him. And if not, he said he would have called Child Protective Services.

On Tuesday, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Detective Lt. Timothy Willis offered insight on the shooter’s journal saying that in all the 22 pages the shooter wrote in, he referenced wanting to commit a school shooting. There were also passages where the shooter talks about wanting to get help.

One entry reads: “I have zero HELP for my mental problems and it’s causing me to SHOOT UP THE F—ING SCHOOL.” Another entry reads: “I want help but my parents don’t listen to me so I can’t get any help.”

Later entries chronicle the shooter receiving his gun from Crumbley and detailing his plan to kill people at his school.

Edward Wagrowski, an Oakland County Sheriff’s detective at the time of the shooting, testified last week, showing the jury text messages between the shooter and his friend months before the shooting detailing mental health struggles, including hearing voices.

One text from the shooter reads, “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.”

If Crumbley had done the simplest of things, as he knew his son was struggling, four kids would still be alive, McDonald said in her closing arguments. If he had listened to his son or read his journal and believed what it said, he could have intervened as the violence his son was planning was foreseeable.

“He sees that drawing that morning when he goes to the school and what does it say? It says, ‘help me.’ How many times does this kid have to say it? He says it in his journal. He says it to his friend and what is he saying? ‘I asked my parents; I asked my dad,’” McDonald said. “And if that isn’t enough, he writes the words “help me” on a piece of paper and his parents, James Crumbley is called to the school to see it and what did he say? He says, ‘We gotta go work.’”

The defense only called on one witness as the burden of proof was not on them. Crumbley’s sister, Karen Crumbley, talked about seeing her brother and nephew, the shooter, in April and then again in the summer, months before the shooting.

Crumbley, who lives in Florida, said she and James Crumbley had been in the hospital with their mother as she was sick at the time. Karen Crumbley said their mother died on April 6, 2021, and the shooter came to Florida to visit shortly after. She didn’t observe anything that would have raised concerns for her.

When she came to Michigan for a summer 2021 visit, she said she didn’t observe anything that gave her reasons to worry about her nephew’s mental state or what kind of care he was receiving from his parents. When asked by the defense if she would have done anything had she observed anything wrong, she said she would have.

“I would have addressed it and if I would have known anything I would have talked to him. I would have took him home with me if there was any kind of inclination that anything was wrong,” Karen Crumbley said. She added that she would have told her brother if she thought something was wrong, but there was nothing she was concerned about.

Moving forward, more needs to be done to address the ways in which children in America are dying from gun violence, Steve St. Juliana, the father of Hana St. Juliana, said at the press conference after the verdict reading. More needs to be done to tackle kids’ declining mental health and other issues and people can’t simply stand behind Second Amendment rights and not talk about what is killing kids.

“We can put people on the moon; we can build skyscrapers, huge monuments like the Hoover Dam and we can’t keep our kids safe in schools?” St. Juliana said. “I think people just need to wake up and take action. Stop accepting the excuses. Stop buying the rhetoric. It is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s nonpartisan. Do not accept any excuse from any of the politicians. This needs to be solved and it needs to be solved now. We do not want any other parents to go through what we’ve gone through.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan J. Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

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