PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — A teenager pleaded guilty Monday to terrorism and first-degree murder in connection with a Michigan school shooting. He may be called to testify against his parents, who are jailed for manslaughter for their role in the tragedy.
Nearly a year after the attack at Oxford High School in southeast Michigan, 16-year-old Ethan Crumbley pleaded guilty to all 24 charges. In the gallery, some of the victims’ relatives wept as Assistant Prosecutor Mark Keast described the crimes.
Asked if he “knowingly, intentionally, knowingly” decided to shoot the other students, Crumbley replied, “Yes,” looking down and shaking his head.
No deals were made prior to Monday’s plea, the prosecutor’s office said. A first-degree murder charge usually carries an automatic life sentence in Michigan, but juveniles are entitled to a hearing. There their lawyer can argue for a shorter term and a chance for parole.
“We don’t know of another case anywhere in the country where a mass shooter has been convicted of terrorism on state charges,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said.
The teenager withdrew his intention to pursue an insanity defense and repeatedly admitted under questioning by Judge Quam Rowe that he understood the convictions.
His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, are in prison for involuntary manslaughter. He was accused of giving his son access to a gun and neglecting his need for mental health treatment. Ethan Crumbley’s attorney, Paulette Michael Loftin, said he is likely to be called to testify against them. They said they were under a no-contact order and he hadn’t spoken to his parents.
It’s rare for parents to be charged in school shootings, although the guns used usually come from a parent’s or a close relative’s home. Jennifer Crumbley referred to the gun on social media as a “Christmas present” for her son.
Ethan Crumbley admitted under questioning Monday that he used his own money to buy a gun his father bought for him on Nov. 26, just days before the shooting. He also admitted that the gun was not “locked up” in a container or safe the morning it was taken to school.
He was 15 at the time of the shooting and had no disciplinary problems at the school, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Detroit, but his behavior that day raised flags.
A teacher found a drawing of a gun pointing: “Thoughts never stop. Help me.” There was a picture of a bullet with the message “Blood everywhere”.
The couple refused to take their son home on November 30, but investigators said they wanted him to undergo counseling within 48 hours.
Ethan Crumbley brought a 9mm Sig Sauer handgun and 50 rounds of ammunition to school in his backpack that day. He went into a bathroom, pulled out a weapon and started shooting. Within minutes, deputies arrived and he surrendered without resistance.
A day earlier, a teacher had seen Ethan Crumbley looking for ammunition on his phone. The school contacted Jennifer Crumbley, who told her son in a text message: “Lo. I’m not mad at you. “You have to learn not to get caught,” the prosecutor’s office said.
Sheriff Michael Bouchard told reporters Monday that Ethan Crumbley had 18 rounds of ammunition with him when he was arrested.
“I believe he would have kicked everyone out if he hadn’t been interrupted by deputies walking in immediately,” said Bouchard, who called Ethan Crumbley a “twisted, evil person.”
“I hope he gets life without parole,” the sheriff added. “From four beautiful souls he took life eternally, and he affected many others eternally.”
Prosecutors revealed earlier this year that Ethan Crumbley suffered from hallucinations About demons, was fascinated by guns and Nazi propaganda.
“Simply put, they created an environment where their son’s violent tendencies flourished. “They knew their son was troubled, so they bought him a gun,” prosecutors said in a court filing.
The parents said they were unaware of their son’s plan to shoot up the school. They also argue that guns are easier to keep at home.
Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myer, Hana St. Juliana, and Justin Schilling were killed, and six students and a teacher were injured. In addition to counts of first-degree murder and terrorizing causing death, Ethan Crumbley pleaded guilty to seven counts of assault with intent to murder and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
The judge set hearings to begin on February 9 to decide whether he will be sentenced to life without parole or a reduced sentence based on his age and the possibility of parole. His attorneys can argue various mitigating circumstances, including family life and mental health. Prosecutors did not indicate in court whether they would argue for a non-parole sentence.
Loftin said the teenager is remorseful: “He takes responsibility for his actions,” she said. As for the victims, she said, “I don’t think there are any words that can make them feel better.”
Keegan’s son, who was hiding in the school bathroom with Justin Schilling when Schilling was fatally shot, told reporters after hearing that seeing Crumbley in person for the first time was difficult.
She said her son didn’t want to attend, but asked for a link to the live stream so he could listen from afar.
“He struggles with the thought of being in the same room,” Gregory said. “I mean, he was held hostage for about six minutes.”
Detroit attorney Wayne Johnson, who is suing the Oxford school district and the Crumbley family on behalf of several victims’ families, said Monday’s plea was “one small step on a long road to full justice for our clients.”
“We will continue to fight until the truth is revealed about what went wrong that led to this tragedy and who could have and should have prevented it, including Crumbley’s parents and multiple Oxford Community Schools employees,” Johnson’s statement said.
Wolf Mueller, another attorney representing the victims’ families, said it was “very unbelievable to hear” and “an amazing development” that Ethan Crumbley admitted to buying the gun with his own money.
“What he did was in cold blood,” Mueller said. “And even though he’s dealt a bad set of cards with his parents, it’s a choice he makes to hurt and bring disaster to Oxford.”
Williams reported from West Bloomfield, Michigan.