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From the New York Times, I'm Michael Bobaro. This is the daily a few days ago, for the first time, an american jury convicted a parent for a mass shooting carried out by their child. My colleague Lisa Miller has been reporting on the case from the beginning and explains what the historic verdict really means. It's Thursday, February 8.


Lisa, you came to this story as a writer for New York magazine two years ago. You just joined the New York Times. I did, a couple of days ago, basically. And you came to this story right after this horrible shooting and long before any kind of trial was underway. What was it that drew you to this particular case? There are so many mass shootings in the United States.


Well, first and foremost, I have covered school shootings. And so I'm familiar with all of the pain and agony around these events. I covered Sandy Hook. I covered parkland. So I've been immersed in these cultures for a long time. The circumstances of this particular shooting were highly unusual. These parents, James and Jennifer crumbly, bought their son Ethan, who was 15 years old, a gun on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, as an early Christmas present. The morning of the shooting, they were called to the school because the child had been drawing these very alarming pictures. They left the kid at school. The kid then shot up the school, killing four of his classmates and injuring seven other people. He was captured and charged with 24 counts, including terrorism, and charged as an adult. The parents were charged several days after the shooting with involuntary manslaughter.


The first time, basically in the era of mass shootings, school shootings, that parents were held responsible, criminally responsible, for what their kid had done.


In school shootings, the parents are always sued by the families. It's normal. But to make their actions and inactions a crime was extraordinary. And for me, this raised all of these questions about how responsible is a parent for a child's criminal acts, and what is a parent expected to know or not know about what their teenager is doing, thinking, planning, what raises alarms, what doesn't raise alarm? I mean, all of these questions are very compelling and murky, and they kind.


Of get to the heart of what it means to be a parent.


Yep. And so as I'm thinking about all these big questions, I'm also talking to legal experts in Michigan about the prosecutor's case and whether this was a possible case to bring against these parents, James and Jennifer crumbly, because what they were saying to me, what the legal experts were saying was that there's this bedrock principle in us law, which is I'm responsible for what I do. And you're responsible for what you do. So how do you put the crumbly parents in between Ethan, who pulled the trigger and killed four of his classmates, and make them criminally responsible for those children's deaths, especially when he'd been charged as an adult?


So you're saying from the very start, you're getting the sense from this reporting that this is going to be an uphill prosecution. It's an innovative prosecution. It's a bold prosecution. It's potentially a game changing prosecution in this era of mass shootings. But just practically speaking, it's going to be hard to get a guilty verdict.


Yes. And then I went to the town where this happened, Oxford, Michigan. And when I got there, my overwhelming impression was twofold that the town reviles these parents. They are seen as outsiders, irresponsible. And it's a tiny town, 22,000 people with four kids dead. Everybody knows a family who suffered a terrible loss. And that is palpable. It is palpable in the courtroom, in the hearing I went to. And it is palpable in every interview with a parent I had. That was the first thing. The second thing is that everybody in town owns a gun. Everybody was raised with guns. And they talk a lot about responsible gun ownership. And so the fact that this kid had access to this gun is negligence on the part of the parents. And I use the word negligence in the casual, non legal way. And so, as I start watching the trial of Jennifer Crumbly, which started a couple of weeks ago, I know these two things, and they are in opposition to each other. One is that the community is absolutely furious at these parents, and especially at the mother. And the other is, the legal experts have told me that this is going to be a really hard case to win.


Right. So take us into the actual trial of Jennifer Crumbly.


Your honor, calling people versus Jennifer Crumbly, case number 222-7990 Sh.


What's always been so compelling to me about Jennifer Crumbly as a character is that you can see her in two entirely different lights. And the prosecution and the defense are going to describe her completely differently.


Jennifer crumbly didn't pull the trigger that day, but she is responsible for those deaths.


So the prosecution is painting a picture of a reckless, negligent parent. Who is concerned about everything but the care of her very disturbed son. And that she had every reason to know that her son was very distressed. And so what the prosecution has to do is prove what in the law is called foreseeability.


The school tutor was in a downward spiral that had begun months before. Jennifer Crumbley was aware of that.


That Jennifer crumbly both could have known what her son was able to do and could have foreseen the harm he was going to commit to others.


One theme will present itself during this trial. Just how senseless November 30 was. And that's because of all of the easy, ordinary things for someone to do that nobody did.


The other legal term that's important here is a term called ordinary care. And what ordinary care means in this case is that an ordinary person in the same circumstances would have taken steps to intervene.


Okay, and how do they attempt to show that in testimony?


Right. One of the first things they do is they show that she knew that her husband had bought their son a gun. They show that the gun was sold with a cable lock. And both her husband and Ethan were given a pamphlet about gun safety along with the gun. And then an ATF agent took the stand and testified that when police officers got to the house after the shooting, they found that the gun safe was set to.


What's significance about that is generally the.


Factory default for a lot of safes.




That the cable lock that had been.


Sold with the gun looks almost new.


Had never been used. Jennifer herself took Ethan to the shooting range.


Who's the surveillance of?


It shows Jennifer crumbly and the shooter.


Entering the gun range on the Saturday after they bought him the gun.


And then they proceed to take turns firing the Sig sour pistol.


That Ethan was very experienced with the gun. This was a semi automatic nine millimeter sig sour. And he fired many rounds in what's called a shooter's stance.


In other words, Jennifer crumbly would have understood that her son, because she was there, was becoming quite proficient in shooting a gun.


Yes. And that there seemed to be a culture of laissez fair gun safety in the house. And then the next person the prosecution brings on the stand is a sheriff's deputy who has been through all the family's texts, messages, cell phone calls over the past year before the shooting, and finds, basically a documentary of family life. Conversations about what's for dinner, who's doing what, who's picking up who. But in the middle of all of those family conversations on that same day.


You'Re finding text messages from Jennifer's son to her of a concerning. Major, this is March 17, 2021. Yes, sir.


There are some texts that show that Ethan is very distressed.


600 and 03:00 p.m. He says, okay, the house is now haunted and then what? Some weird shit just happens. And now I'm scared.


He's seeing things. There's a demon in the house.


It's throwing bowls. The word bowls is in all caps.


He's freaked out. And then at the end of his description of this alleged hallucination, he writes.


Can you at least text back?


Can you at least text me back?


And what happens?


And the next response from the defendants, who are son, is when, two days.


Later, the prosecution shows that she does not respond. And, in fact, what she's doing at the time is riding horses and taking pictures of herself riding horses. And the prosecution wants to show that her care for her horses exceeds her care for her son. In addition, Ethan had one very, very close friend, his best friend. And the communication between Ethan and his friend was constant at all hours of the day and night. And in those communications, he told his friend that he was falling apart.


The shooter said, I actually asked my dad to take him to the doctor yesterday, but he just gave me some pills and told me to, quote, suck it up.


He wasn't sleeping. He was laughing and crying in the shower.


He then says, like, I am mentally and physically dying.


He thought about calling 911 on himself. And at one point, he said he told his parents that he wanted to go see a doctor.


Then he says, my mom laughed when I told her.


There is no evidence that his mom or dad saw the texts between Ethan and his friend. But the prosecution is trying to show that Ethan's mental state was so unraveled, so distressed, that he was completely forthcoming about how terrible he felt and that he was asking for help.


How does the prosecution ultimately handle this fateful day of the shooting, which you mentioned at the beginning of our conversation?


Right. Well, for the prosecution, that meeting at the school is the coup de gras. So on the morning of November 30, 2021, Jennifer crumbly is at work. And sometime after 09:00 she gets a call from the guidance counselor at school. And the guidance counselor has texted her a drawing that Ethan made on his geometry worksheet. That morning, on the worksheet, Ethan has drawn a figure lying in a puddle of blood with bullet holes. He's written, help me. I'm paraphrasing. The voices won't stop. My life is useless. Blood everywhere. There's a drawing of a gun that looks very much like the sig sour he and his father bought four days before. And Jennifer sees the drawing and immediately texts her husband and know. Emergency. Call me. The guidance counselor tells Jennifer that she needs to go to the school right away.


They're alarmed.


They're alarmed. And they go to the guidance counselor's office, where Ethan is sitting there waiting for them. Inside the office, the guidance counselor testifies that Jennifer is cold, she's abrupt, she doesn't give her son a hug. She isn't seemingly concerned. In that meeting, the guidance counselor tells the parents that he believes that Ethan is having suicidal ideation and that he needs counseling within 48 hours, sooner if possible. And one of the points that the prosecutor makes is that neither James nor Jennifer raises the fact that they had just bought Ethan a gun and that the gun looks very much like the gun that he drew on the geometry worksheet.




In his testimony, the guidance counselor is struck by the fact that Jennifer doesn't try to elicit any explanations, really, from Ethan. That they don't have any warm family conversation, that they don't act curious about his mood or the worksheet. That there doesn't seem to be any real interrogation of what is going on. And then there's a discussion about what to do for the rest of the day. And Jennifer says, well, we need to get back to work. James is driving Doordash at the time. And the prosecution has also shown that Jennifer's workplace is flexible and she could easily take her kid home. Ethan says he wants to stay at school. And so the decision is made to keep Ethan at school for the parents to go back to work. And within twelve minutes, James and Jennifer leave the office.


So when you describe this as the prosecution's coup de gras, what I suspect you mean is that this feels like the ultimate moment of negligence on the part of Jennifer Crumbly. In the prosecution's telling, she is uniquely situated in this moment to take care of her son, to ask him about the gun, to intercede in a way that might have prevented this from happening. And she did not. And we all know what happens next.


Yeah. Sometime around lunchtime, Ethan goes into the bathroom with the gun in his backpack and comes out shooting. And at around that time, James sees police cars screaming toward the school and texts Jennifer. And Jennifer texts Ethan. And what she says is, ethan, don't do it. And prosecution has always made the case that this text from Jennifer to Ethan shows that she knew on some level what he was capable of doing and really never intervened at all to prevent him from doing so.


We'll be right back. So next, of course, comes the defense in this case. Tell us about their argument.


Would you like to make an opening? I would. Thank you.


Jennifer's lawyer, Shannon Smith, is a very theatrical, showy performer who makes references to herself and the messiness of her own life all the time.


On my way to court today, I blasted Taylor Swift to warm up my voice and calm my nerves. And there was a line in one of her songs that summarized what this case is about. Band aids don't stop bullet holes. And that's what this case is about. It's about the prosecution attempting to put a band aid on problems that can't be fixed with a band aid.


And in her opening statement, Smith makes several points.


The prosecution has charged Jennifer crumbly with involuntary manslaughter in an effort to make the community feel better.


One is that the community wants somebody to blame, and that that is understandable.


But that none of those problems will be solved by charging Jennifer crumbly with involuntary manslaughter.


Holding Jennifer responsible won't heal the wounds in the town. So that's the first thing she says. The other thing she says, which is sort of what the legal experts were saying to me, is that the crime.


Is Ethan's, and he is the one, as you will see from the evidence.


He has pled guilty to the crime, he has been convicted of the crime, he has been sentenced, and that it's not Jennifer's crime.


And at the end of the day, these slivers of evidence will have no context and no explanation.


And the third thing she says is that what the prosecution has done is sort of cherry picked the most egregious texts and phone calls and images from a regular family's life.


But like any of you who look back at text messages sent a year ago, they may look bad without context and explanation.


Smith is aware that the town, that the community reviles the crumbly's, and Jennifer in particular. And she pleads with the jury to try to see things from her point of view, as difficult as that may be.


And so how does the defense approach telling this other version of Jennifer Crumbly?


Hi. Start by stating your name.


It's Jennifer crumbly.


So Jennifer is the only witness that Shannon Smith calls to the stand. And Shannon Smith tries to rebut, point by point, the prosecution's argument. And one of the most important things she has to do is deal with how Ethan got the gun.


Are guns your thing?


Not really, no. Okay.


Who is responsible for storing the gun?


My husband is.


And basically, Jennifer on the stand says she's not the gun person in the house. James is. The gun guy.


Her husband?




It was more his thing, so I let him handle that. I didn't feel comfortable putting the lock thing on it.


He knows how to use the guns. He goes with Ethan usually to the shooting range, that this trip to the shooting range that she took with Ethan was just a one off and that she's not really interested in or involved with guns or gun safety in her house. She's delegated that to her husband.


Okay, what does Jennifer have to say about the prosecution's kind of central claim beyond the gun? That she was a negligent mother, that she was distracted, that she was unresponsive, especially to her son's seemingly open, please for help.


Jennifer on the stand refutes that completely. She calls herself a helicopter parent.


Our biggest struggle with him were missing assignments. That was the one thing we battled all the time.


She says she was in constant touch with the school over Ethan's grades. She was concerned about his grades. She drove him around. She drove him to bowling.


He had bowling practices throughout the week, bowling matches. And he worked part time at a.


Diner that she was extremely involved in his life. And Shannon introduced into evidence Jennifer's Facebook pages, which showed kind of a happy family Halloween.


We grew our own pumpkins, so we always carved and carved our own pumpkins and had a whole bunch put around the house. And it's normal, normal family stuff.


Did you have.


What about the specific idea that Jennifer crumbly ignored the signs of Ethan's unraveling? There's that text about demons throwing things in the house. Please respond.


Can you at least text back? Okay. Do you recall this date on March 17, 2021?


It didn't stick out to me until this poll. No, I don't recall it exactly right.


She insisted that there was nothing there that concerned her.


Why didn't they stick out to you?


Because it wasn't anything that was anything serious. It was Ethan just messing around.


You got to explain to the jury, how did Ethan mess around?


He's been convinced our house has been haunted since 2015. It was built in 1920.


She talked about how Ethan had been given a Ouija board for Christmas earlier that year. And from there, there was this sort of long standing joke prank about there being ghosts in the house, like our.


House ghost, we called it. My son named it Boris Johnson. My husband named it Victoria. It was just a little phase.


And they all talked about the ghost as if it were real in a kind of joking, prankstery way, that it was a kind of play. That was how they talked.


So this kind of stuff between you, your son, and your husband was like, typical joking around kind of stuff it was.


And in her testimony, Jennifer crumbly also said that she never thought that her son needed to see a mental health professional, that nothing in his behavior made her think that he needed one.


Even if the jury accepts that argument, there's still the question, of course, of why Jennifer cumbly did what she did or what she didn't do when she was called to the school on the day of the shooting. So how does she talk about that and how does the defense lawyer present it?


So in her testimony, Jennifer says that she feels somewhat relieved. After that meeting, I thought, he doesn't.


Get in trouble for what he drew on his assignment. I was expecting, like, a disciplinary meeting.


She rushed to the school worried that her kid was in trouble, and she's relieved that Ethan isn't in trouble. Shannon, her lawyer, notes that everybody in the room is a mandatory reporter, which means that if they thought that Ethan was a danger to himself or to others, that they could call the police or call a state social worker and take him into custody, and nobody does that.


It was pretty nonchalant. It was pretty brief. He said that my son told him that he was feeling sad over the death of a dog that we had. So we talked a little bit about that.


And so there's this sense, at least from Jennifer's point of view, that the urgency, the immediate urgency has been diffused and that everybody can go on with their day.


Did you feel like you were taking the position of, I am leaving him at school, whether he can be here or not?


No, absolutely not. My son gets very stressed out when he does virtual school. So we agree that it might stress him out more to do his school remotely the rest of the day, that.


The decision to leave Ethan at school was a decision for his safety, for his health, and that they would deal with what they needed to deal with.


Anon does Jennifer's lawyer bring up the question of the gun? The fact, as the prosecution has claimed, that Jennifer crumbly does not bridge the informational gap that the school officials would have had in that moment. That perhaps that drawing Ethan makes on his geometry worksheet is a reference to a gun that Jennifer knows the family possesses.


Jennifer says that she was not thinking about there being any danger from the know. And Shannon, her lawyer, continually says that the murders are facts. In hindsight, do you believe that you.


Knew or had reason to know your son was a danger to anyone else?


No. As a parent, you spend your whole life trying to protect your child from other dangers. You never would think you have to protect your child from harming somebody else. That was the hardest thing I had to stomach, is that my child harmed and killed other people.


So in a sense, what the defense is doing here is saying there is no foreseeability when it comes to Jennifer crumbly. Yes, jury, in retrospect, this all looks perhaps kind of cut and dry, these texts, these conversations, the purchase of the gun, all of it. And they're saying for her, in reality, in real time, it wasn't cut and dry at all. And she did not think her son was capable of this or that there was anything to stop.


No. And in Shannon's closing remarks, she says this. She says, jennifer, one of the first things she says when she goes to the police station after the shooting, know he's a good kid. He's never gotten in trouble.


So as we now know, the jury rejects this version of Jennifer Crumbly, the one who is not negligent, the one who is a helicopter parent and who couldn't foresee what was happening, and they find her guilty. What was your reaction when you heard that news?


Well, as I said, I really struggled with the tension between this fragile case that the prosecutors were building, that everybody said was a fragile case and the overpowering desire of the community to see Jennifer crumbly in prison. And the law is there both to provide guardrails on behavior, but also to reflect a community's will in some way.


Well, what does that mean for the future of this type of prosecution? This was a first. It may not be a last, but it also, I think, is a question of whether it will become common after a school shooting, after a mass shooting involving a young person, for a prosecutor to go after the parents. I mean, are the circumstances here so unique that this does feel like a new template or an anomaly?


If I had to pick one of those, I would lean toward anomaly for several reasons. One is that the circumstances of this case are so unusual and also that lots and lots and lots of kids die from gunshot wounds every year. I think the number I have is more than 4000. In 2021, more kids die from gunshot.


Wounds than anything else in the country.


Anything else in the country, including car crashes. So is this how we're going to start addressing the problem of guns and gun violence in America, by holding individual parents accountable? I mean, maybe it will work as a deterrent, but it does seem to be trying to circumnavigate the more direct approach, which is to control access to guns, to control guns, to control who's buying the guns.


Well, what's the risk in circumnavigating what is clearly an intransigent gun control debate in this country, that's not going anywhere.


Right. The risk is that you start making parents responsible, criminally responsible, not just ethically or morally responsible for things that it's very difficult to make parents responsible for, especially if the kids are teenagers and able to deceive, lie, manipulate, have secret lives. We all know what teenagers are like, right? And some of the legal experts I spoke to brought up comparable situations, such as, you lend your kid a car, the kid gets drunk and kills somebody. Are you criminally responsible for that? It just seems like a slippery slope. And the legal experts are concerned about this.


Is what you're saying, that a verdict like this, it might be emotionally satisfying, but as satisfying as a verdict like this might be for some legally kind of spiritually, it's potentially quite problematic?


Yes, I think parenting teenagers is really difficult. Everybody will agree. And there's a big distance between being an awful mom and being a criminally responsible one. And one of the questions I have is, if you start using the crumbly case as a precedent for other parents, how many parents who are good parents will get caught in this net? I spoke to sue Klebold for the story in New York magazine. She was the mother of Dylan Klebold, who was one of the Columbine shooters. And she was sort of the opposite of Jennifer Crumbly. She was up in the middle of the night when her son came home from prom, and she was a invested member of the community, and she didn't allow guns in the House. And she told me not only did it still happen, but she had no idea. None. The shooting came as a total shock and surprise to her. And those boys had been planning it for months. And six months after Columbine, she was taken to the police station, where she was shown tapes that her son and the other shooter had made, and she said she didn't recognize him. And there's all of this evidence that parents are actually some of the least insightful observers of their children.


50% of kids who make suicide attempts, it's found that their parents don't know, have no idea. There was an FBI white paper on sort of the profile of the mass shooter, and it said that parents are some of the least reliable reporters of the propensity to do violence like that. And I guess one of the things that the crumbly case makes me wonder is if this is the model for the future. Is it asking parents to be more clear eyed about their children? Than is actually possible. Well, Lisa, thank you very much. We appreciate it. Thank you, Michael.


The manslaughter trial of Ethan Crumbly's father James, is scheduled to begin early next month. We'll be right back. Here's what else you need to notre.


Day this is the choice Republicans face today. They can either choose what's good for the country's national interest or they can choose what's good, at least in their minds, for Donald Trump.


On Wednesday, Senate Republicans rejected a bill that did exactly what many of them had said they wanted link billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine and Israel with stricter security measures at the US Mexico border. The vote came after former President Trump asked Republicans to kill the legislation. The vote marks the official demise of a rare bipartisan effort backed by President Biden and Senate leaders from both parties that for months appeared to be headed for passage.




Israel has dashed hopes that a long term ceasefire with Hamas might be close at hand. On Wednesday, it rebuffed the terms of an offer from Hamas to release israeli hostages and end the fighting in Gaza. During a news conference, israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu called Hamas's proposal, quote, delusional and said that Israel would keep fighting until it achieves total victory over Hamas. Today's episode was produced by Olivia Nat, Alex Stern, Muj Zaidi, and Shannon Lin with help from Kate Lopresti. It was edited by Patricia Willins with help from Devin Taylor, contains original music by Marion Lozano, Dan Powell and Alicia Baitu, and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landfirk of Wonderlay. That's it for the daily I'm Michael Boboro. See you tomorrow.