Should Parents Ever Be Held Responsible for the Harmful Actions of Their Children?

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Should Parents Ever Be Held Responsible for the Harmful Actions of Their Children?

In “Mother of Michigan Gunman Found Guilty of Manslaughter,” Jacey Fortin writes about the case:

Michigan jurors, after 11 hours of deliberations, found Jennifer Crumbley guilty of involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday for the gun rampage committed by her teenage son, who carried out the state’s deadliest school shooting more than two years ago.

The trial became a lightning rod for issues of parental responsibility, in a time of frequent cases of gun violence carried out by minors. It was the most high-profile example of prosecutors seeking to hold parents responsible for violent crimes committed by their children.

Ms. Crumbley, 45, was convicted on four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each of the four students who were shot to death by her son at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021. The son, Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 at the time, used a pistol to kill Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Justin Shilling, 17; and Hana St. Juliana, 14. Seven other people were injured. The gun was a gift from his parents.

“We all know that this is one of the hardest things you’ve ever done,” Judge Cheryl Matthews of the Oakland County Circuit Court told jurors at the courthouse in Pontiac, Mich., immediately after the verdict was read.

Ms. Crumbley sat mostly still, with downcast eyes, until she was handcuffed and led out of the court. She has been held since December at the Oakland County Jail.

Ms. Crumbley faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison after being convicted of all four counts. Sentencing is scheduled for April 9.

Ethan, who pleaded guilty to 24 charges including first-degree murder, was sentenced last year to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He did not testify in his mother’s trial.

Ms. Crumbley’s husband, James Crumbley, 47, will be tried separately in March.

Ms. Fortin writes that the guilty verdict against the mother of a school shooter will reverberate in prosecutors’ offices around the country, noting a rise in charges of reckless conduct or neglect against parents whose children carried out gun violence in other states, and quoting Ekow N. Yankah, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School:

The charges against Ms. Crumbley were more serious, making her trial a significant test case for prosecutors.

Ms. Crumbley’s defense lawyer, Shannon Smith, argued during the trial that parenting could be a messy and unpredictable job, and that no mother could be perfect. “This case is a very dangerous one for parents out there,” she said during her closing arguments on Friday.

Mr. Yankah said that after this verdict, “I think there are going to be a lot of parents out there who think: If I have a troubled kid, and I’m doing my best, at what point is his or her behavior no longer my responsibility?”

At the courtroom in Pontiac, Mich., jurors spent seven days listening to wrenching testimony from nearly two dozen witnesses, including Ms. Crumbley, who testified in her own defense for about three hours last week.

The prosecutors argued that Ms. Crumbley should have noticed her son’s distress and stopped him from committing an act of unspeakable violence. Marc Keast, one of the prosecutors, said that she and her husband “didn’t do any number of tragically small and easy things that would have prevented all of this from happening.”

For the defense, Ms. Smith depicted Ms. Crumbley as a “hypervigilant mother” who was attentive to her son’s needs and could not have foreseen what would happen.

“I am asking that you find Jennifer Crumbley not guilty,” Ms. Smith told the jury on Friday. “Not just for Jennifer Crumbley, but for every mother who’s out there doing the best they can, who could easily be in her shoes.”

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

  • What is your reaction to the conviction of Ms. Crumbley on four counts of involuntary manslaughter for the mass shooting carried out by her son?

  • Should parents be held responsible for a child who commits a terrible act — such as a school shooting? And if so, under what circumstances?

  • The prosecution team argued that Ms. Crumbley should have noticed her son’s distress and stopped him from committing an act of unspeakable violence. Marc Keast, one of the prosecutors, said that she and her husband “didn’t do any number of tragically small and easy things that would have prevented all of this from happening.” How persuasive is that argument when considering whether parents should be held legally responsible for the actions of their children?

  • Shannon Smith, Ms. Crumbley’s defense lawyer, said in her closing statement to the jury: “I am asking that you find Jennifer Crumbley not guilty. Not just for Jennifer Crumbley, but for every mother who’s out there doing the best they can, who could easily be in her shoes.” How persuasive is her counterargument? Will the guilty verdict set a dangerous precedent for all parents and mothers, who might now be expected to be perfect at the difficult job of raising children?

  • What are the implications of this high-profile case? Do you think Ms. Crumbley’s conviction will lead to more prosecutions of parents for the offenses committed by their children? Do you think the verdict might prevent school shootings in the future? Why or why not?


Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

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