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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Crumbleys’ guilty verdict unjustified

Craig Shilling, father of Michigan shooting victim Justin Shilling, reacts to James Crumbley’s guilty verdict on March 14. James and Jennifer Crumbley were both found guilty of involuntary manslaughter following the mass shooting their son, Ethan Crumbley, committed Nov. 30, 2021. (Robin Buckson | Detroit News via AP Photo)

The parents of Ethan Crumbley, the Oxford High School shooter, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter for their role in the shooting. However, they should not be held responsible for Ethan’s actions.

Jennifer Crumbley was charged with involuntary manslaughter on Feb. 6, following the Oxford High School shooting in 2021, making her the first parent in the U.S. to be held responsible for a child carrying out a mass shooting, according to the Associated Press. She was also responsible for failing to secure a gun and failing to get help for Ethan Crumbley’s mental health.

Involuntary manslaughter is the unintended killing of a person while committing a crime or acting in a reckless manner, according to Legal Dictionary. Failure to secure a gun is when guns are not stored in locked containers or boxes, essentially giving anyone access to the firearm.

James Crumbley was also charged with involuntary manslaughter on March 14, according to the Associated Press

Neither parent should have been charged as they were not the ones to commit the shooting.

Evan Bernick, an assistant professor in NIU’s College of Law, said the context of the Crumbley case is horrifying.

“The facts are absolutely horrific,” Bernick said. “The things that came to light about what the parents knew and what they failed to do is really deeply troubling.”

It’s important to acknowledge the Oxford school shooting was a severe tragedy. Undoubtedly, the Crumbleys’ hold responsibility, and their failure cannot be excused. However, their failure does not warrant charges of involuntary manslaughter. 

Senate Bill No. 79 was enacted in Michigan on April 13, 2023. The bill requires gun owners to store guns in a locked box or container out of arm’s reach from children. Because the shooting happened in 2021, before the legislation was put in place, the Crumbleys should not have been held responsible.

Even though the safe storage law was implemented after the Oxford shooting, other prosecutors and states will advocate for similar legislation because of the gun problem in the U.S., Bernick said.

“So even though this is only a change in Michigan law, it is a change that every prosecutor is going to push for in another place, because of the nature of the gun problem that we have in this country,” Bernick said.

However, there’s a significant difference between involuntary manslaughter and failure to secure a gun. 

If the Crumbley’s must be held in light of laws implemented after the shooting, they should still not be charged with involuntary manslaughter. Instead, both James and Jennifer Crumbley should only have gotten charged with failure to secure a gun. 

Bernick also said the Crumbley’s case was a big parental failure and social failure. 

“I think that this is one level of a parental failure. I think it’s also more broadly a social failure,” Bernick said. “This is a kid who did not get the mental health services that he desperately needs. This is a kid who only had access to a gun in the first place, because his parents got him a gun, because that’s the kind of thing that parents do in certain cultures within the United States.”

Although Ethan Crumbley’s parents played a part in the lead up to the shooting, they should not have been charged with involuntary manslaughter because they didn’t commit the act.

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