Parents of Michigan School Shooter Receive 10-to-15 Year Sentence For Involuntary Manslaughter

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, Pool, File

A Michigan judge went beyond the recommended guidelines on Tuesday when deciding how long James and Jennifer Crumbley will spend behind bars after being convicted for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the shooting at Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan in November, 2021. The parents of the shooter will spend the next decade in prison before they're eligible for parole, and could serve fifteen years in custody on the involuntary manslaughter charges, though sentencing guidelines suggested a seven-year sentence was more appropriate. 


While handing down her decision, the judge made it clear that the sentence is meant to have an impact beyond the Crumbleys themselves. 

Judge Cheryl Matthews said that the expanded sentence of 10 to 15 years was "to act as a deterrent" and reflected the parents' failure to stop the attack.

"They [parents] are not expected to be psychic. But these convictions are not about poor parenting. They concern acts that could have halted a runaway train," she told the court.

"Opportunity knocked over and over again, louder and louder, and it was ignored."

The sentence isn't a deterrent for the Crumbleys or for the actual perpetrator of the attack at Oxford High. Their kid is already going to spend the rest of his life in prison for killing four students and injuring seven other students and staff. This is about sending a message to other gun-owning parents. 

What message is that? At the very least, it's a warning not to turn a blind eye to what our kids are telling us. Prosecutors were able to successfully portray the Crumbleys as parents who were completely uninterested in their son's declining mental condition; not only refusing to get him the help with mental health that he was asking for, but buying him a pistol when they should have known that he was deeply troubled and at risk of harming himself or others. The Crumbleys testified that the pistol they purchased for their teenage son was kept in a locked safe, but James Crumbley acknowledged that the safe's code had never been changed from the factory setting of 000. Prosecutors also showed jurors a video taken by the shooter in August of 2021 showing him loading a handgun and racking the slide; video that he sent to a friend with the caption "My dad left it out so I thought, ‘Why not’ lol.”


At a meeting with school officials on the morning of the shooting at Oxford High School, the Crumbleys refused to take their son home from school after a teacher discovered a drawing their son had made with a gun and what appears to be the body of someone who was shot along with the phrases "My life is useless," "Blood everywhere" and "The thoughts won't stop, help me." 

Am I concerned that the prosecution of the Crumbleys will lead to more parents being blamed for the criminal actions of their kids, even when they couldn't plausibly have known what they were up to? Absolutely. And given that school shootings are extraordinarily rare events, I think it's dangerous for the courts to suggest that parents should automatically presume that their child is plotting a mass shooting if they get into trouble at school. 

But as the judge said, the specifics of this case show that there really were some pretty big warning signs that the Crumbleys ignored or dismissed. You don't have to think your child is going to shoot up a school to know that they need some help, and prosecutors were able to show jurors that James and Jennifer Crumbley downplayed their own concerns for their son in the weeks and months before the shooting took place. 

It's entirely possible that the Crumbleys' case will open the door for prosecutors to charge other parents whose children engage in serious acts of violence, but it doesn't guarantee that those prosecutions will be successful. The Crumbleys' behavior both before and after the shooting at Oxford High School (when they went on the lam for several days) didn't help their defense. It wasn't just that they purchased a pistol for their son just a few days before the school shooting. In fact, if that had been the only thing prosecutors could point to, I doubt either would have been convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors were able to portray a pattern of dismissiveness and negligence when it came to their son's struggles with mental health, and that, along with the high-profile and heinous nature of their son's actions, was what led to their convictions. 


I don't think the sentence the Crumbleys received today should scare gun owners into getting rid of their firearms while their children are living at home, even if that's the message the judge was hoping to send with her decision to send them to prison for at least a decade. If there's a "teachable moment" here it's that parents, regardless of whether they own a gun, need to listen to what their kids are telling them; not because we're concerned about what they might do to others or the criminal responsiblity that might land on our shoulders, but because that's a parent's job. 

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