Jennifer Crumbley pushed through the glass door at the Accurate Range on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2021. Jennifer, sometimes known as “Jehn,” was a tall 43-year-old mother dressed in jeans and a nubbly sweater coat. Her left hand clutched a black case containing the SIG Sauer 9-mm. semi-automatic weapon her husband, James, had purchased the day before at a gun shop near their home in Oxford, Michigan.
Ethan Crumbley, the Crumbleys’ 15-year-old son, had joined them. He stood awkwardly by, his gaze drawn to the semi-automatic guns for rent posted on the wall. Jehn paid cash for half an hour of range time, 100 rounds of 9-mm ammo, and two paper targets after conferring with him.
It’s not uncommon to see children at the Accurate Range, which bills itself as a family-friendly establishment. The range, which is housed in a shed-like structure adjacent to a software business and across the street from a Taco Bell, resembles a suburban bowling alley, right down to the busy parking lot and the glowing green-and-red OPEN sign in the front window. Accurate offers a party room and promotes senior mornings with free coffee and doughnuts, as well as Mother’s Day with free gun rentals and refreshments. It supports church meals and offers “kid-friendly outdoor events, raffles/door prizes, and spectacular wildlife displays” at gun shows where it sells its products.
A minor is not allowed to acquire a pistol under federal law, however there is an exception for target practise. During the epidemic, the Crumbleys had gone to the range on occasion. Ethan already has a signed waiver on file.
Ethan was the first to confront the long, narrow gallery. He took a step back from the little metal counter, raised the handgun, and turned it over to figure out how to click in the magazine. He sighted and shot, paused, and then shooting 14 times in fast succession as he gained acclimated to the motion. Behind him, Jehn waited for him to complete. The CCTV camera captures her jiggling her foot in shackles, something she did repeatedly in court.
Ethan, a student at Oxford High School, went into the boys’ toilet between classes three days later, on Tuesday, November 30, when Jehn was at the office and James was out doing DoorDash deliveries. He allegedly pulled the SIG Sauer from his rucksack and marched down the long, curving corridor, firing at his classmates. With Michigan, he has been charged as an adult in the killings of Madisyn Baldwin, Hana St. Juliana, Tate Myre, and Justin Shilling. First-degree murder, assault with intent to murder, weapon possession, and terrorism are among the 24 criminal counts against him. Michigan does not have the capital penalty, and his trial will not begin until at least January, but Ethan Crumbley may expect to spend his whole life incarcerated.
What happened at Oxford High School is a horror story, both terrible in its details and familiar in its contours. But then Karen McDonald, the Oakland County prosecutor, did something amazing. She stood up at a news conference three days after the massacre, appearing distraught but resolute, and declared she would be prosecuting the shooter’s parents as well. James and Jennifer Crumbley face four counts of involuntary manslaughter each, with a potential punishment of 15 years in prison. McDonald noted in a prosecutor’s brief that criminal charges had never been filed against the parents of a school shooter before. But she felt forced to say, “I am angry.” As a mother, I’m furious.
McDonald was astounded that any parents would buy a gun and convince their adolescent — who was depressed, secluded, and fascinated with weaponry and violent video games — that it was his.
Not everyone in the Oakland County prosecutor’s office believed McDonald was doing wisely. In general, prosecutors do not take cases in which they are not certain of winning. And McDonald, a popular Democrat in a politically divided county, would have realised she was in trouble. Oxford is gun country, and no one in town wanted the shooting to be framed as a gun problem.
In Oxford, BB weapons are given as gifts to kindergarteners, while high students post photos with their firearms and hunting trophies on Instagram. Elissa Slotkin, the district’s Democratic congressman, spent her childhood vacations on a neighbouring farm, where her father kept more than a dozen unsecured firearms in his office. It’s not uncommon to see a pickup vehicle with two bumper stickers: one with an assault weapon and a 2A motto, the other with OXFORD STRONG, the town’s post-shooting credo.
The Crumbleys possessed three firearms, including the new pistol, and Jehn praised Trump for supporting her right to bear arms in a letter she addressed to him after his election in 2016. Michigan is an open-carry state, and obtaining a concealed-carry permit is simple. (On Saturdays and Sundays, the Accurate Range conducts certification classes.) There are no safe-storage rules in Michigan, so even if the Crumbleys had the SIG Sauer unlocked on the night of the shooting, they would not have been breaking the law. McDonald believes Michigan’s gun regulations are “woefully insufficient,” as she stated during the news conference, but she did not pursue the subject.
Instead, McDonald declared that she would prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Jennifer and James Crumbley had grossly neglected their parental duty by failing to warn their son of the obvious danger he posed — and thus were directly responsible for the deaths of four teenagers, the injuries of seven, and the trauma of the community. According to preliminary court filings, the evidence before the jury will be a catalogue of an American family’s everyday life: text threads about chores, vacations, whereabouts, and homework; selfies, cell-phone videos, and social-media posts; school communications and unpaid bills; phone records and voice-mails.
McDonald will claim that all of the evidence points to parents who were so inattentive and negligent that they ignored Ethan’s calls for assistance and instead handed him a pistol. Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman, the attorneys for Jennifer and James, will argue that while the Crumbleys are not ideal people, there is no legal basis for convicting them of a crime based on what they didn’t know about their kid. The decision will be determined by a jury deciding where these parents’ obligations end and how much they should have been expected to observe.