In a rare case watched by the legal community nationwide, Jennifer and James Crumbley were sentenced Tuesday to 10 to 15 years in prison. The case was the first time in American history that parents have been charged in criminal court, much less found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, for a shooting committed by their child.

Just Another School Shooting:

The Crumbleys are the parents of Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old student who killed 4 students in the Oxford, Michigan, school shooting in 2021. Ethan pleaded guilty to 24 charges, including first-degree premeditated murder and terrorism causing death, and is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for his role in the shooting spree.

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What Role Did The Parents Play?

Days before the shooting, a teacher allegedly witnessed Ethan researching ammunition online. School officials contacted the parents, but they did not respond.

On the day of the shooting, another teacher allegedly saw a drawing of a gun and the words “the thoughts won’t stop, help me” written on Ethan’s desk. The parents were called to the school, and told officials they would get their son counseling, but did not remove him from school.

Later that afternoon, Ethan Crumbley started shooting in the Oxford School, killing four students and injuring six more students and a teacher.

Jennifer and James were tried separately, with each jury returning a guilty verdict. During the trials, prosecutors stressed the gross negligence demonstrated by the pair. They claim both parents knew of the emotional state of their son, and refused to do anything about it.

Are Parents Responsible for the Sins of Their Children?

Jennifer and James Crumbley were found guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter in separate trials earlier this year. Prosecutors argued the Crumbleys, who bought the gun used in the attack for their son and took him to a shooting range four days before the attack, failed to secure the gun when not in use and ignored warning signs prior to the shooting.

In sentencing the pair Tuesday, Judge Cheryl Matthews made the following comment:

Parents are not expected to be psychic, but these convictions are not about poor parenting. These convictions confirm repeated acts, or lack of acts, that could have halted an oncoming runaway train -- about repeatedly ignoring things that would make a reasonable person feel the hair on the back of their neck.

In requesting a sentence for Jennifer Crumbley, the prosecutor wrote:

No sentence this Court can administer will fix the damage caused by the Oxford High School shooting on November 30, 2021.  As the jury found, defendant's gross negligence was a cause of this damage; she knew of the danger to another, it was reasonably foreseeable her son would shoot someone, but she failed to exercise even the smallest measure of ordinary care.

Prosecutors argue James Crumbley did not use a cable lock, a trigger lock, or store the gun in a safe place. During the trial, it has been reported James used obscene gestures at prosecutors and witnesses.

What Does It Mean?

Who has responsibility when a minor carries out a shooting? This case has placed new light on those who may be criminally responsible for a shooting. Parents are under the microscope, especially when other officials identify warning signs. Gun manufacturers that advertise to children, social media sites, and even Hollywood directors have been linked for portraying an unrealistic view of how guns are used and have faced a new series of questions.

This case, and the sentence of more than a decade behind bars for each parent, may serve as the start of a discussion in homes nationwide.

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