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Parents' Trials In Michigan School Shooting Case Could Set Precedent

Hours before Ethan Crumbley killed four Oxford, Mi., students, his parents met with a school counselor who showed them a picture their son had drawn in math class of a handgun with the words “blood everywhere,” “the thoughts won’t stop” and “help me.” James and Jennifer Crumbley refused to take him home to get psychological help and didn’t say they had bought him a gun resembling the one in the drawing or search his backpack for the weapon. After 15 minutes, they cut the meeting short. On Tuesday, the first of separate trials for the couple will seek to determine whether they were merely inattentive parents or guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter. It is the first time that parents of a school shooter have faced homicide charges linking them directly to their child’s deadly rampage, reports the Wall Street Journal. Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 at the time of the shootings but charged as an adult, pleaded guilty to 24 felonies and is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.

Since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre brought school shootings into the spotlight, the question of parental responsibility has often been posed, but few parents have faced criminal charges. The mother of a boy, 6, who shot his teacher in Newport News, Va., was sentenced in December to two years for child neglect in connection with the nonfatal shooting. Th father of a man accused of killing seven people during a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill., pleaded guilty in November to seven misdemeanor counts of reckless conduct for helping his son get a gun license. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail. Gun-violence prevention groups applauded the homicide charges against the Crumbleys. “I think it sends a very powerful message, and I hope that it inspires parents to know that there are repercussions if you allow a child access to a firearm,” said Erin Davis of Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit that has filed civil suits against the gun dealer who sold the handgun to James Crumbley and the school district. Jeffrey Swartz, a criminal law professor at Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mi., said the case has the potential to set an ill-conceived precedent around the responsibility of parents to prevent a disturbed or angry child from using anything within the home that could foreseeably be used as a weapon.


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