Ethan Crumbley, 17, faces life without parole for killing four students and injuring seven others in 2021
PONTIAC, Mich. — The defense team for Ethan Crumbley, the teenager who pleaded guilty to the Oxford High School shooting that claimed four lives and wounded seven others in 2021, asked the judge for leniency and a chance at redemption on Friday.
Crumbley, 17, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole for four counts of first-degree murder and one count of terrorism. His sentencing hearing was held at the Oakland County Circuit Court before Judge Kwame Rowe.
The defense argued that Crumbley was a troubled and lonely youth who suffered from mental health issues, bullying and abuse. They said he was influenced by violent media and did not fully comprehend the consequences of his actions.
They also said Crumbley had shown remorse, regret and cooperation since his arrest, and that he had improved with medication and counseling. They asked the judge to consider Crumbley’s age, background and potential for change, and to give him a sentence that would allow him to seek parole after 25 or 40 years.
“He is a bright young man,” said Deborah McKelvy, a court-appointed guardian for Crumbley. “He is an artist. He is a historian. There are days I have been oblivious sitting in a cell for three hours just talking to him. His life is salvageable.”
Defense lawyer Paulette Michel Loftin said Crumbley was not the same person he was two years ago, and that he had a chance to become a productive and positive member of society.
“He is remorseful. He has been able to keep out the dark voices and thoughts,” Loftin said.
Victims and survivors reject defense’s claims and seek maximum punishment
The defense’s pleas for mercy were met with strong opposition and disbelief by the victims and their families, who spoke for more than six hours about the pain and grief caused by the shooting.
The parents of the four slain students — Tate Myre, Madisyn Baldwin, Hana St. Juliana and Justin Shilling — as well as some of the survivors who were injured or witnessed the horror, demanded justice and accountability for Crumbley.
They said Crumbley was a cold-blooded and calculated killer who planned the shooting for weeks, obtained a gun from his father, and targeted his victims deliberately and brutally. They said Crumbley showed no remorse or empathy for his victims, and that he deserved to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
“There can be no rehabilitation,” St. Juliana’s father, Steve St. Juliana, told the judge. “There is absolutely nothing the defendant can do to earn my forgiveness. His age plays no part.”
In a journal, the shooter wrote about his desire to watch students suffer and the likelihood that he would spend his life in prison. He made a video on the eve of the shooting, declaring what he would do the next day.
More than 25 people gave victim-impact statements, some wearing shirts honoring the fallen students. Speakers recalled the day and its aftermath in details large and small.
Linda Watson said her son, Aiden, who was shot in the leg, still doesn’t go to school for a full day. She recalled the family staying in a hotel because a nail gun being used in her neighborhood sounded like a real gun to him.
“Aiden will be dealing with this for the rest of his life. … This shooter — this monster — should have to feel everything hard and painful for the rest of his life,” Watson said.
Crumbley’s parents also face charges for their role in the shooting
Meanwhile, like their son, Jennifer and James Crumbley are locked up in the county jail. They are awaiting trial on involuntary manslaughter charges, accused of making a gun accessible at home and neglecting the shooter’s mental health.
The prosecution said Crumbley’s parents were summoned to the school on the day of the shooting after a teacher found a drawing by Crumbley that showed a gun and the words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”
Instead of searching his backpack or taking him home, they left him at school with the gun, the prosecution said.
They also said Crumbley’s parents ignored a text message from their son that said: “Don’t do it.”
“They did nothing,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said. “They are equally responsible for this tragedy.”
The prosecution said Crumbley’s parents were not loving or caring, but rather “monsters,” “evil” and “criminals.”
Oxford High School shooting shocked the nation and exposed systemic failures
The shooting happened in Oxford Township, about 40 miles north of Detroit, on Nov. 30, 2021. Besides the four students who were killed, six more students and a teacher also were wounded.
The Oxford school district hired an outside group to conduct an independent investigation. A report released in October said “missteps at each level” — school board, administrators, staff — contributed to the tragedy.
Crumbley’s behavior in class, including looking at a shooting video and gun ammunition on his phone, should have identified him as a “potential threat of violence,” the report said.
The report also said the school failed to follow its own safety protocols and procedures, and that there was a lack of communication and coordination among the staff, the parents and the authorities.
The report made several recommendations to improve the school’s security and prevention measures, such as installing metal detectors, conducting regular drills and training, and providing more mental health support and resources.