Crime & Courts

Lauren Taylor Interview: Assessing The ‘Crumbley Precedent’ In School Shootings

“This is very new and novel …”

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Last month in Oakland County, Michigan, a jury returned guilty verdicts on four manslaughter charges against 45-year-old Jennifer Crumbley. Crumbley was charged in connection with the horrific Oxford High School shooting north of Detroit that left four students dead and seven injured.

The shooting – which took place on the afternoon of November 30, 2021 – killed 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin, 16-year-old Tate Myre, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana and 17-year-old Justin Shilling.

What made these guilty verdicts so noteworthy? Jennifer Crumbley didn’t commit the mass shooting – nor was she even present at the school when it took place.

The perpetrator – her then-15-year-old son, Ethan Crumbley – pleaded guilty to this crime in October 2022 and was sentenced to life in prison. Nonetheless, his mother was found guilty of manslaughter on February 6, 2024 because prosecutors asserted – and a jury agreed – that her awareness of her son’s deteriorating mental state and her facilitation of access to a firearm constituted “but-for causes” of the shooting. Her husband, James Crumbley, is currently facing similar charges.

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Jennifer Crumbley (Oakland County Sheriff)

The case against Jennifer Crumbley – laden with all manner of aggravating factors – marked the first time in American history that prosecutors sought to hold a parent responsible for school shootings carried out by their children.

For insight on this case, I sat down with South Carolina attorney Lauren Taylor – who provided us with expert analysis during convicted killer Alex Murdaugh’s recent bid for a new murder trial here in the Palmetto State. According to Taylor, this first-of-its-kind prosecution has the potential to open the floodgates to similar charges being filed all across the country.

“This is very new and novel,” Taylor noted. “Whenever these school shootings have happened, everyone’s first question is ‘well, what did the parents do? What did they not do? What did they let them watch on TV? Did they play too many dangerous video games?’ We’ve all theorized what these problems are, we’ve never actually taken it to the level where we’re going to hold a parent criminally responsible for what their child has done.”

In discussing the facts of this case – and the standard prosecutors successfully leveraged in support of the charges – Taylor noted its potentially polarizing impact.

“I think it’s easy to see if from both sides,” Taylor said. “If one of your precious children was a victim in a school shooting you would want to be screaming from the rooftops for any and all people to held liable – but what if one of your children was a perpetrator? And now you have this spotlight that’s reflected back on your personal home life and people asking ‘well, what did you do wrong?'”

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Is such a spotlight reasonable? Especially given the strains our current economic and cultural climate are placing on parents?

“So many people are doing the absolute most that they can with the absolute least,” Taylor said. “We have parents that are trying everything they can to afford day care to make sure that they can actually go to work.”

Now these parents must also worry whether they will be held criminally liable in the event the unthinkable were to happen …

“That’s an extremely uncomfortable thought,” Taylor noted. “Not only am I going to deal with the horror that my child caused and the loss of life but my whole family could be at risk because someone could interpret that I had something to do with that.”

And while the Crumbley case would appear to be a definitional outlier in terms of the extent of parental negligence and enabling behavior, the precedent it creates remains deeply concerning.

Jennifer Crumbley and her husband did not do the “absolute most” they could with their son. They failed him – and by extension, his victims – multiple ways on multiple occasions. Specifically, they failed to address Ethan Crumbley’s declining mental health and failed to keep him away from firearms and ammunition (in fact, they facilitated his access to both). Most ominously, in the hours leading up to the shooting, they failed to take emergency action when it became abundantly clear he was in need of immediate psychological treatment.

Red flag upon red flag was waved in the faces of these parents … yet they did nothing.

If such a case was going to be brought, there is a compelling argument to be made the Crumbleys were the ones to bring it against. Still, I’m not so sure opening this door is going to be a net positive for our badly broken culture.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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