A mother has been found legally responsible for her son's crimes. Jennifer Crumbley was found guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter after her son, Ethan, took a gun to school and shot up his classmates, killing four of them. This is the first time that a parent has been held directly responsible for the crimes of their minor child. Mrs. Crumbley may have been a bad mom, of which there are many across the US. She's the first mom ever in the US to be convicted for her child's crime in this way.
Does the verdict against her spell trouble for the bad moms of all the teen killers in the United States? Prosecutors in the Michigan case claimed that Mrs. Crumbley did not prevent her 15-year-old son from harming others. Moms of violent 15-year-olds across the country can for sure relate. Her son Ethan is in prison for the rest of his life and now she faces 60 years in prison, essentially a death sentence for the middle-aged mom, for his crimes.
The verdict sets a shocking precedent for the parents of violence-prone children. Will all parents who have violent children be held accountable for that violence? Will only the parents of school shooters be held accountable? Or perhaps only the white parents of school shooters from basic middle-class families whose parents should know enough to take them to therapy?
Teen killers abound. Four Las Vegas teens were charged with the murder of their classmate, 17-year-old Jonathan Lewis, Jr. The parents of the four young men, who have been charged as adults in the beating death of Lewis, have not been charged by the prosecution. Did these teens have problems at home? Were their parents neglectful? Did any of the moms or dads teach their kids to fight? It is unlikely we will find out.
Also in Clark County, Nevada, two teen boys, both gang members, were charged with the premeditated murder of man over being "disrespected." The parents of the two teens were not prosecuted, despite having allowed their children to join a violent street gang. The boys were charged with some 15 felonies and faced additional penalties for "gang enhancement." Where are the charges for the parents?
In Chicago, 40 teens were charged last year after participating in a "teen takeover." Their parents were not charged. Two teens at the end of 2023 were charged with armed robbery. Again, their parents were not held liable for their crimes.
In 2022, one of the most horrific school shootings ever happened in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The teen who carried out that shooting was known to police, bullied by classmates, his mother a drug addict. She was not arrested or charged for his crimes, though last year she was arrested last year for threatening violence in a domestic incident.
A mom in Virginia was found guilty of child neglect in a case where her 6-year-old son brought a gun to school, but she was not found culpable for any crime he committed, namely, shooting and injuring his teacher. She wasn't charged for shooting the teacher, just for her lack of care for her child.
A father pleaded guilty to misdemeanor felony conduct after his son shot up a Fourth of July parade. The father had signed a state firearm owners ID card for his son. He signed the ID card when his son was a minor, though he was of age to own a firearm three years later, when he committed the shooting, killing seven.
And in Michigan, where Mrs. Crumbley was found guilty for Ethan's horrific crimes, a 15-year-old boy was charged with murder for shooting another 15-year-old to death in a hotel room. The police chief said the murder was over a conflict that started on social media. The child's parents were not charged. A teen in Detroit, just a few miles down the road, was charged with second-degree murder for a car crash that killed a pregnant woman. He was going 93 mph, ran two red lights, and his parents were not charged. Officers even attempted to pull him over prior to the fatalities but he sped off.
Mrs. Crumbley was prosecuted and found guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter caused, according to prosecutors, by her poor parenting. She was not prosecuted for neglect, or child abuse, but found to be complicit and responsible for the crimes her son committed when he was a 15-year-old high school sophomore.
What makes Mrs. Crumbley different from all these parents? How has she been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter while the parents of these other violent, murderous teens faced no arrest, no charges?
Teens are shot, beaten, robbed and killed by other teens daily and tragically in the United States. Mass shootings happen in inner cities and in suburbs. These incidents happen at schools, nightclubs, movie theaters. Teens who have good parents can also turn bad, and plenty of kids who have awful, terrible, abusive parents do not turn to a life of violence.
Children aged 15 are legally able, in many states, to obtain abortions, birth control, prescriptions, sex change drugs, medical care, without parental consent or awareness. Teens are given personal responsibility for countless actions, yet when it comes to this teen and this mom, she is meant to be personally accountable for his actions by failing to take actions prosecutors now claim would have helped Ethan.
The prosecution blamed Mrs. Crumbley for her son's depression, his agitated mental state, and for not revealing to school officials that her son owned a gun, which she claimed was just for range shooting. Prosecutors claimed she did not store it properly. When the Crumbleys were called in to school to discuss violent drawings Ethan made in class, they brushed it off. These were the allegations leveled at Mrs. Crumbley in court. Her husband is set to go on trial for the same thing.
At 15, a child is an adult in many religions. Teens are notoriously difficult for parents to control. If Mrs. Crumbley is guilty of involuntary manslaughter, if that is now the legal precedent, the timeline of Mrs. Crumbley's crime must be isolated. Was she guilty just in the days or weeks leading up to Ethan's crime or was her behavior evident prior to the date of the crime? Should she have been charged with neglect when he was in elementary school, should child protective services have intervened? If so, aren't they also at fault?
If this ruling comes to mean that parents of violent children should face charges for their children's violent acts, law and punishments will need to be rewritten, guidelines would have to be in place, like behavioral traffic signals, so that parents can be aware when criminal lines are being crossed. It never once occured to Mrs. Crumbley that her son was going to be a mass murderer. Parents don't usually think that about their children.
Mrs. Crumbley wasn't convicted for what she did do but what she didn't do. She was convicted of making choices that the prosecution believes led to someone else's crime, though she did not, at any step of the way, commit a crime herself. If Ethan had killed himself instead of his classmates, it is unlikley she would have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, though her crime would have been the same.
Many parents suck, but not all of their children go on murder sprees. Charging parents for the crimes of their children sets a precedent that would upend the American legal system and fill the prisons with parents who wish they could have had one more moment to understand their child and to guide them toward goodness and away from the darkness that is consuming them.