Shooting Straight: You Can Reduce Violence by Not Raising Jerks

an excerpt from ethan crumbley's journal
Evidence from Ethan Crumbley’s journal was used in court. (Photo credit: Fox 2 Detroit)

With the convictions of James and Jennifer Crumbley—if you missed it, they’re school murderer Ethan Crumbley’s parents—people are asking questions about parents being held responsible for the murderous actions of their kids. In the case of the Crumbleys, the evidence was rather damning. It even included a meeting at the school the morning of the murders that was attended by both parents during which they were shown drawings their son created that clearly depicted the killings being carried out with a gun.

Did the Crumbleys take their kid home? Did they hurry to get him help? No. Despite a long history of behavioral issues, they insisted that Ethan was fine remaining in school. Hours later, he started shooting people with a handgun they bought him a few days before.

James Crumbley in court
James Crumbley, father of convicted killer Ethan Crumbley, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. (Photo credit: Detroit Free Press)

You might be wondering what this has to do with any of us, which is a justifiable question. It’s not likely this case will set much of a precedent, partly because it’s one of the rare cases where there was overwhelming evidence against both parents. However, it brings the discussion back to armed active killers in schools.

Rather than going on a rant about the atrocious failings in the nation’s mental health care system — and yes, those failings are glaring and extensive — let’s stop and consider parental responsibility when it comes to kids who turn into killers. Just this morning I read an article my daughter wrote about firearms education in schools — she’s a junior in college now — and noticed she made several references to how her upbringing that included firearms safety positively impacted her throughout her childhood.

In her eyes, the fact that she grew up having the mystery of firearms removed while also learning responsibility and safety around guns made all the difference. In contrast, her peers are overwhelmingly anti-gun and many are clearly afraid of them.

As parents, what we do has a tremendous impact on our kids. Whether you realize it or not, they’re watching. If you’re treating firearms with respect, they’re far more likely to do so, too. And if you believe in and demonstrate safety, they likely will as well. You need to teach them about safety measures and proper handling, but the point is that younger kids will emulate your behavior.

What does that mean for people like the Crumbleys who bought their teenage son the handgun (laws regarding possession/use of firearms by a minor vary, and it’s your job to know the local laws) he used to murder people at his school?

jennifer crumbley in court
During the trial, Jennifer Crumbley tried to place the blame for her son’s actions on her husband. (Photo credit: Business Insider)

The mere presence of a gun in the home has nothing to do with whether or not a kid becomes a killer, despite media attempts to claim that. Just because they purchased the gun doesn’t mean it’s their fault. A lack of proper safety training also doesn’t turn kids into murderers (just negligent idiots, in my experience with random kids at the range or hunting).

And before you get into a nature versus nurture argument, remember that studies have clearly shown that kids raised in the exact same circumstances can turn out wildly different. One might be a cardiac surgeon and the other could be a drug dealer who ends up in prison. That implies that what the parents do really can’t or shouldn’t be blamed for horrible behavior, not unless the parents are actively grooming a kid to kill people. Stay with me, this is going somewhere.

Side note: Remember that I’m not a lawyer and I’m theorizing here based on the known facts of the Crumbley case.

Perhaps the biggest reason the Crumbleys were both convicted of involuntary manslaughter, something that could carry up to a 15-year prison sentence, is because the prosecution had no problem showing evidence that the Crumbleys failed to take actions that could have stopped the murders. That school meeting the morning of the murders might have been enough proof on its own, but there was much more than that.

The parents might not—probably were not—expected to have stopped the murders no matter what, but they did nothing when alerted that there was a serious threat. They bought a handgun for a kid with obvious mental health issues. The best attorneys in the world probably couldn’t have overcome that kind of evidence.

crumbley case
The court found that Ethan Crumbley’s parents did indeed bear some of the responsibility for his actions, largely due to their own inaction. (Photo credit: Court TV)

As a parent, I’d be hard pressed to ignore signs my kids need help. In fact, I pay close attention. It’s certainly arguable that the school might bear some responsibility for not outright suspending Ethan during that final meeting—I have no idea why they let the parents choose—but it was ultimately up to the parents to get him help.

The school, public or private, isn’t responsible for raising your kids. Far too many parents—dare I say most?—use the school as some sort of bizarre surrogate parent. Parents today make wild claims such as blaming the school because their kid can’t read well, or at all, and refuse to take responsibility for their own sheer laziness and incompetence. They get mad at the teachers because their kid didn’t do their homework or because they’re failing whatever subject.

News flash: It’s your job to raise your kids. It’s your job to get them whatever kind of help they need to succeed, whether that’s a math tutor or intensive psychiatric help. Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away.

If your kid is an asshole, you might want to do something about that. If your kid has suicidal ideation, get them help immediately. If your kid likes to fantasize about murdering the people around them, you might want to look into that. Just an idea.

ethan crumbley math drawing
This is the drawing Ethan Crumbley’s parents were shown in a meeting with the school hours before the murders took place. (Photo credit: Business Insider)

It’s possible to be legitimately taken by surprise by a kid’s bad behavior, but it usually isn’t a shock at all. There are typically going to be signs, some of which you may only notice in hindsight. The outcome depends on what you, the parent, do about it.

We have become a nation that believes in talking things out rather than disciplining and in handing out participation trophies instead of expecting real effort or achievement (let alone pride in winning). Groups like Moms Demand Action believe armed killers in schools are the result of the sheer existence of firearms, and that if we just destroy all the guns, nothing bad will ever happen againl. Guess what, Moms, that isn’t how it works.

The fact is that evil exists and the lack of proper parenting combined with awful mental health care (or none at all) and the glorification by corporate media of killers has created a perfect storm.

I can’t believe I have to say this again, but it’s not the gun, it’s the kid behind it. As for the kid, sometimes the parents carry some portion of the blame for their complete lack of action. That isn’t always the case, but sometimes it is, as the Crumbleys found out the hard way in court.

Maybe if discipline and parental supervision—and I’m not referring to creepy helicopter parenting—became popular again we’d see a drop in violence. Maybe people just need to take responsibility for their actions (and inactions) again and deal with the consequences. No, we aren’t responsible for every tiny thing our kids do, but it would help if we didn’t raise a generation of entitled jerks.

15 Responses

  1. I’m willing to bet these convictions will not survive the appeals process. Simply because Michigan had no firearm Safe Storage Law at the time of the incident. It didn’t go into effect until February 13, 2024. The entire case is based on the access to the firearm used and the legal responsibility of the parents to keep it away from the shooter.

    1. “I’m willing to bet these convictions will not survive the appeals process.”

      That takes considerable money by the defendant, money they most likely don’t have anymore, if they ever had any in the first place…

  2. This has little to do with participation trophies, or even a lack of discipline. It has to do with life having no meaning. If we’re all just some cosmic accident, then why wouldn’t you be the center of the universe? His goal of killing to be remembered was because he didn’t understand any higher meaning of life. He was willing to take lives in order to achieve that because he wasn’t taught that life was a precious gift.

    I’m not saying you end up being a murderer if you aren’t religious. If he had loving relationships, then he wouldn’t be worried about not mattering to anyone. This is what it comes down to. He wanted to matter, even if it meant people would always remember him as a murderer. You don’t have to teach your child to fight for a “real” trophy. You have to make sure they understand that their life matters.

    Did he have a job? Did he have extra curricular activities? Young boys and men need to stay busy, or they end up getting into trouble. Girlfriends and wives help as well. Women help to tame young men. I think one of the problems with young men today, outside of growing up in a broken home, is getting married too late.

    “…failed to take actions that could have stopped the murders…”

    Yet, courts have ruled that law enforcement isn’t required to take action to stop murders. I don’t understand how the parents can be held legally responsible unless we begin applying this to all parents of children who commit assault, rape, murder, etc. I still don’t know if that would hold up in court over time. I’m interested in hearing a legal analysis of this.

    “It’s your job to get them whatever kind of help they need to succeed…”

    True, but schools apparently suck now. Parents should be mad at the school systems. I’m a product of public schools. My parents never taught me how to read. They certainly NEVER helped me with math. I asked my Granny to teach me how to write in cursive before they got around to teaching me in school. That’s the only help I ever got.

  3. In this case, I believe the parents were negligent. Seems rather obvious.

    But while a person’s upbringing is 90% determinative of their adult path, it’s not always a guarantee. My older brother and I had the same parents, and while I turned out to be an upstanding person, he led an entire life of lies since high school. Lied to everyone. Cheated on his first wife. Cheated on his second wife. Cheated on his third. Turned his back on God and told everyone to go to Hell. Lives 100% for himself.

    Same parents, same childhood environment, different results.

  4. I agree the parents were responsible and especially negligent. The same should happen with the parents of minors out past curfew committing crimes.

  5. My work has me around a lot of kids and their parents. I’ve observed the parents see their kids as special, gifted, a gift themselves, etc… no matter how much of a cretin the kid actually is.

    The kids bad behavior or weird issues is always the fault of somebody else’s kid influencing theirs or the issue isn’t really an issue at all and the rest of the world is at fault for not seeing the glorious gifted blessing their kid is.

    I’ve always kinda disliked kids but through years of observation I’ve learned I also dislike parents. Mother’s especially.

    1. “My work has me around a lot of kids and their parents. I’ve observed the parents see their kids as special, gifted, a gift themselves, etc… no matter how much of a cretin the kid actually is.”


      Why I had a response ready for Bosch’s comment of :

      “As a parent, I’d be hard pressed to ignore signs my kids need help. In fact, I pay close attention.”

      You would like to think that, you probably even believe it, the reality tends to be vastly different. I had personal experience with such a parent in 1975.

      Coming out of her mouth “Our son would NEVER do anything like that!”

      Saying to myself : “Say, WHAT? It was his idea in the first place!” Parents will go to *extreme* lengths to only believe the best of their shit kids, as I personally found out in the summer of 1975.

      (Let’s just say my ‘friendship’ with that kid ended right then and there…)

  6. Involuntary manslaughter as opposed to voluntary manslaughter.
    Voluntary manslaughter is a heat of the moment crime, e.g., a husband/boyfriend in the heat of the moment takes the life of his wife/girlfriend even though he normally would not have harmed them physically. Or one friend kills a friend/relative arising from some disagreement.

    Involuntary manslaughter is having the time and opportunity to prevent or possibly prevent a killing and do nothing. The act of doing nothing or making the wrong decision is what can lead to such a charge. In other words, they did not commit the actual crime but they did noting to prevent another person from committing the crime.
    From this article it seems obvious that the parents had multiple opportunities to take action that may have prevented this crime; but, the parents did nothing even after seeing the drawing and leaving their son in school that unfaithful day.

    1. “…From this article it seems obvious that the parents had multiple opportunities to take action that may have prevented this crime; but, the parents did nothing…”

      Parents have powerful motivation to do nothing, that being, their ‘status’ in the community by exposing a monster and “ruining him for the rest of his life”, is the driving (lack of) mentality.

      Much better (for them) to just ignore it and pretend it isn’t happening, in a few years he’ll be out of the house and no longer their responsibility. They gambled, they lost…

      1. Hindsight is 20/20. I doubt they thought he was capable of murder. They probably thought it would blow over. They also probably didn’t take it seriously because they most likely didn’t take much seriously when it came to parenting.

        1. @fppf
          Thanks for the extra context. Most parents would have a hard time believing their child could really be a murderer. This case seems like a wild legal precedent. I’d like to hear a legal expert’s opinion on it.

          “They had their son enrolled in therapy too.”

          Was he also on anti-depressants at one time or another? Some people think that might mean the drugs cause this. Possibly. I think it’s evidence that the drugs AND the therapy don’t work as advertised. Yet, almost every article, and many comments, act like it’s an issue that’s only lacking funding. “We need more mental health resources.” Have we ever, in the history of the world, had more people in therapy and on anti-depressants? Why would we do more of the same and expect different results? Maybe the answer lies elsewhere. No one wants to talk about it because the answer doesn’t involve more funding.

        2. “From some other articles it seems like they were actually engaged parents.”

          I had the chance to check that link, and some other articles. That doesn’t appear to be the case. The therapy was a planned therapy. It looks like it was going to begin that day. He had asked for therapy after he tried to kill himself a month before the shooting. The parents never set it up. The kid was obviously crying out for help.

          King said the shooter was raised in a turbulent home by parents who left him alone for hours, argued in front of him and weren’t discreet when discussing infidelity, divorce and suicide. The boy was even forced to figure out what to do with his beloved dead dog.

          His parents had assured school staff that he would get counseling within 48 hours after they saw his violent drawings.

          “When I interviewed Ethan and just looked at his profile, there is a high level of isolation, lack of parental support, lack of guidance, lack of resources, so psychologically and socially he can be considered a feral child,” King said.

          A feral child is a child who has lived isolated from human contact from a very young age with little or no experience of human care, social behavior, or language.

          “Someone who is abandoned has what is called arrested development, hence they lack social skills, they lack social awareness, they lack social cues and essentially become misfits in society,” King explained.

          The parents blew it. This isn’t because of too few mental health resources, or too many participation trophies.

  7. Thanks Dude. I didn’t take a deep dive so you may be right. I how you are because I’m concerned about the precedent here of holding parents criminally liable for the crimes of their kids. I get it; parenting has really gone down the drain but this feels like a bridge too far. Will be interesting to see how this plays out in the courts going forward.

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