Michigan student killed four classmates in a horror school shooting. Now his parents face 15 years in prison

James Crumbley and Jennifer Crumbley are the first parents in US history to be charged and tried for their alleged role in a mass school shooting (Oakland County Sheriff's Office)
James Crumbley and Jennifer Crumbley are the first parents in US history to be charged and tried for their alleged role in a mass school shooting (Oakland County Sheriff's Office)

In December 2023, Ethan Crumbley was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole after he murdered four students and injured seven other victims in the Oxford High School shooting in suburban Detroit on 30 November 2021.

But, justice and criminal accountability for the killings didn’t end there.

In a historic and unprecedented case, the 15-year-old’s mother and father both went on trial.

In February, Jennifer Crumbley was found guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Her husband James Crumbley was convicted in March on the same charges.

The parents became the first in US history to be charged and convicted for their role in a mass school shooting perpetrated by their child.

Now both parents face up to 60 years in prison — 15 years per count — as they appear for sentencing on Tuesday 9 April.

Here’s what we know about the historic trials:

Why were they on trial?

James and Jennifer Crumbley faced four counts of involuntary manslaughter, as prosecutors had accused them of ignoring their son’s mental health condition and making the gun accessible at home.

Four days before the shooting on 30 November 2021, James bought his son a gun, which Ethan described on Instagram as his “new beauty”.

Jennifer then took her son to a shooting range.

A few days later, a teacher noticed the high school sophomore searching online for ammunition, sparking concerned school administrators to contact his parents.

Instead of responding to the school, his mother allegedly texted her son: “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”

On the day of the shooting, a teacher found a disturbing drawing on Ethan’s desk depicting a school massacre, featuring a semi-automatic handgun pointing at the words “the thoughts won’t stop help me”, prosecutors said.

The school staff then met with Ethan and his parents.

Although the school staff urged Ethan to seek psychiatric help that day and to go home early, his parents rejected the idea and he remained at school.

Jennifer Crumbley testified that her husband had hidden the gun before their son took it to school.

Later that day, their son opened fire, taking the lives of four classmates: Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17.

After hearing reports of the shooting at Oxford High, Jennifer allegedly sent a text to Ethan that read, “Ethan, don’t do it,” as James drove directly home and reported his gun missing.

What happened in Jennifer Crumbley’s trial?

Jennifer’s trial began on 23 January.

In their opening statements, the prosecution and defence portrayed two very different versions of the shooter’s mother.

The prosecution argued that Jennifer understood that her son was experiencing a “downward spiral”, but still, the “gun was gifted”.

This trial was about her “willful disregard of the danger that she knew of”, the prosecutor said, adding that Jennifer and her husband “didn’t do any number of tragically small and easy things that would have prevented all this from happening”.

“Jennifer Crumbley didn’t pull the trigger that day. But she’s responsible for their deaths,” the attorney said.

The defence team, by contrast, described Jennifer as a “hypervigilant” mother who “cared more about her son than anything in the world”.

She took her son to soccer practice, basketball, bowling, and even took him to urgent care when a 1mm mole changed colour, the defence said.

Despite this claim, the attorney insisted that her client didn’t “have it on her radar in any way that there was any mental disturbance, that her son would ever take a gun into a school, that her son would ever shoot people.”

While the prosecution emphasised her role in the massacre, the defence underscored her husband’s love of guns. Her attorney said Ms Crumbley “didn’t know anything about guns,” or how they were stored. When she took her son to the shooting range, he showed her how to use the weapon, the lawyer said.

On 25 January, witnesses of the shootings took the stand. The shooter’s mother broke down in tears listening to their accounts of the tragic day.

In an effort to emphasise Jennifer Crumbley’s priorities other than her son, the prosecution brought Brian Meloche to the stand. Mr Meloche testified that he had an affair with Ms Crumbley that spanned six months, starting in the spring of 2021. The prosecutors also brought up that Ms Crumbley used an adult dating website called AdultFriendFinder, although no further details about her activity on the site were provided in court.

Jennifer Crumbley also took the stand.

Her testimony revealed that around the same time that she began her affair with Mr Meloche, her son lost his grandmother, causing him to miss school. His grandmother passed away in April 2021 and his mother told a friend that he was “acting depressed”.

The prosecution also pressed the defendant about the meeting she and her husband had with school officials, prompted by Ethan’s disturbing drawing, just hours before the massacre occurred.

At the meeting, school staff gave the parents an option to either have Ethan leave school or keep him in school.

Both parents cited their jobs as to why they believed their 15-year-old should return to class.

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 Ms Crumbley had texted 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. Ms Crumbley’s boss also testified that she could have stayed home on the day of the shooting. In a videotaped police interview, shown in court, Ms Crumbley told investigators that she regretted not taking him home that day.

“That was the hardest thing I had to stomach – that my child harmed and killed other people,” she testified.

When asked if she would change what had happened if she could, Ms Crumbley said, “Oh, absolutely. I wish he would’ve killed us instead.”

After hearing nearly two weeks of testimony, the 12 jurors convicted Ms Crumbley. She showed no emotion as the verdict was read out in court.

The jury foreperson later explained the unanimous guilty verdict: “The thing that really hammered it home is that she was the last adult with the gun.”

Ms Crumbley faces up to 15 years in prison per count, meaning she could be sentenced to 60 years in prison if the judge opts for the maximum penalty for each count running consecutively.

What happened at James Crumbley’s trial?

Although his legal team tried to get his trial moved out of Oakland County — citing the national attention his wife’s case garnered — it was to no avail and he went on trial in early March.

Throughout James Crumbley’s swift five-day trial, the prosecution called his son’s shooting “preventable and foreseeable” — an argument they supported by playing a 911 call from James Crumbley on the day of the shooting.

“There were 1,800 students at Oxford High School,” Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said in her closing arguments. “There was one parent who suspected their son was a school shooter, and it was James Crumbley. You know what that’s called? That’s called foreseeability.”

Prosecutors also accused him of ignoring the high school sophomore’s unstable mental state.

Jurors saw texts from Ethan Crumbley sent to his friend in April 2021 — months before the tragedy — revealing that the high school sophomore complained that he was hearing things. He told his friend that he had alerted his parents to hearing “voices”.

“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’,” the teen texted.

Parents in Michigan have a “legal duty” to exercise reasonable care to prevent their child from harming others, the prosecutor said in closing arguments.

On top of this, the prosecutors brought up the school meeting that occurred just hours before the shooting. A teacher had discovered a disturbing drawing by Ethan Crumbley, prompting school officials to meet with his parents.

“I didn’t want him left alone,” the counsellor testified.

But rather than taking Ethan Crumbley home that day, as the school counsellor insisted, James Crumbley left Oxford High School with his wife and made DoorDash runs, prosecutors argued.

At that meeting, the parents did not tell school staff that a Sig Sauer 9mm handgun had been purchased by James Crumbley just four days earlier.

“James Crumbley was presented with the easiest, most glaring opportunities to prevent the deaths of four students and he did nothing,” Ms McDonald said. “He did nothing — over and over and over again.”

Unlike his wife, James Crumbley did not testify at his own trial.

Who are the Crumbleys?

Jennifer, 45, worked in marketing at a real estate firm and James, 47, worked for DoorDash, according to court documents.

The pair initially came under scrutiny for their strange behaviour in the aftermath of the shooting. Reports showed the couple drained their son’s bank account.

They withdrew cash, sold their horses, and bought four burner phones in the hours after finding out that their son had opened fire.

When they were arrested four days after the shooting, the couple reportedly had $6,600 in cash, credit cards, gift cards and four phones.

At the time, the Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said that “they started making plans”.

Jennifer texted someone that she “needed to sell her horses fast” and the couple “drained their son’s bank account” later that day, taking out $3,000 and leaving a mere 99 cents, Ms McDonald said.

The pair also checked into a hotel. The defence attorney told the jury on 25 January that the Crumbleys had been receiving “death threats” at their home, so they went to a hotel to seek refuge.

Fearful, the pair bought burner phones. The defence lawyer also told jurors that they bought two pairs of burner phones because they couldn’t access their bank accounts with their original burners, since they weren’t able to do the necessary two-factor authentication.

The Crumbleys then stayed at an artist studio, belonging to Jennifer’s friend, where they were arrested the next day, on 4 December. They were supposed to have turned themselves in on the afternoon of 3 December, but failed to do so, resulting in a manhunt.

The defence attorney told the court that the couple “weren’t hiding,” but “waiting for instructions” and they were “waiting to turn themselves in first thing Saturday morning, when arraignments take place”.