Just three days before her 15-year-old son carried out a mass shooting at his Michigan high school in 2021, Jennifer Crumbley was captured on security camera leaving a shooting range with the handgun in tow, The 74 reports. She had just taken her son out to target practice in what she described on social media as a “mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present:” a 9-millimeter pistol the high school schooler referred to online as “My new beauty.” The images were pivotal to an unprecedented conviction this week that legal scholars predict could create a new tool for prosecutors as the nation looks for ways to stem a record-setting uptick in mass shootings. “This is the last picture we have of that gun until we see it murder four kids on Nov. 30, and the person holding it is Jennifer Crumbley,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said before a jury convicted the mother on four counts of involuntary manslaughter — one for each of the students her son gunned down at Oxford High School.
Crumbley is the first parent to be held directly responsible for a school shooting carried out by their child, turning on its head a bedrock legal principle: People cannot be held responsible for the actions of others. “Look, I thought this case could go either way and still when the result came out I was a bit stunned because it’s such a deep legal principle,” Ekow Yankah, a University of Michigan law professor, told The 74. If other parents are charged in connection with shootings by their children, Yankah said, the Crumbley conviction may make them more likely to accept a plea deal behind closed doors. “Prosecutors will be tempted to use this power in ways that we don’t see,” he said. “A prosecutor is going to sit across from a parent when people are crying out for somebody to be held accountable and the prosecutor is going to be able to say, ‘I’m offering you three years to five years in prison, but if you don’t take this deal, I will prosecute for 15 years.’ ” Little is known about whether such prosecutions have been effective in reducing juvenile crime. Eve Brank, a professor of law and psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said she is unaware, after decades of researching the emergence of parental responsibility laws, of “any empirical research that shows that imposing punishments on parents because of the actions of the children will decrease juvenile crime.”