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| 2 minutes read

Michigan Mother Found Guilty After Son's School Shooting

A jury has convicted Jennifer Crumbly of involuntary manslaughter in relation to her son's killing four classmates at his school. Crumbly's husband is being tried separately and faces trial on the same charges in March. It's rare to see a parent convicted for failing to parent properly, and this conviction has several problematic elements. 

The prosecution's case was that Crumbly and her husband ignored signs of their son's mental health problems and failed to secure the handgun that they had given him for his birthday and that he used in the shooting. The prosecution spent quite a bit of its time presenting evidence that Crumbley was a neglectful mother, including her son's journal in which he complained that his parents wouldn't get him a therapist. The prosecution also presented testimony from the school that they summoned the Crumbly parents to the school the morning before the shooting in the afternoon, but his parents refused to take him home.

It's always easy to look in hindsight and see red flags showing that a child needed mental health intervention. It's much more difficult to view events in real time and see what's going on in someone's mind. School officials also testified in the trial, for example, that they weren't worried that the student would harm someone. They apparently were more worried about the possibility of his harming himself.  Nor did the prosecutor show that the parents were aware of their son's journal or knew that he wished to find a therapist.

The prosecution made much of the fact that the adult Crumblys refused to take their son home and told the school to send him back to class. The school, however, agreed with that decision, at least to the extent of sending him back to the classroom. And even if the parents had taken him home that day, it's not clear what they could have done the day after and the day after that and the weeks after that. The federal government has designated substantial portions of Oakland County, Michigan, as a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) for mental health services. Nor can anyone say with any certainty that professional help prevents murder. It's very easy to say that the parents should have done something. It's much more difficult to say that the “something” would have made any difference.

The Oxford school shooting was an undeniable tragedy, and we all need to learn what we can about whether we can prevent similar incidents in the future.  Criminalizing bad parenting, however, is not necessarily a good step in that direction.

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The jury foreperson told an ABC News producer as she was walking to her car that the verdict "came down to the fact that Jennifer was the last adult with the gun."


schools, mental health, youth services law, ausburn_deborah, insights