9 Years After Sandy Hook, Oxford Shooting Sees Ethan Crumley's Parents Prosecuted

Nine years since the Sandy Hook shooting, the discussion surrounding gun safety in schools continues to evolve and the charges in the latest mass casualty event in Oxford, Michigan, indicate that the prosecution of these shootings are changing.

Tuesday marks the ninth anniversary of the fatal shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, when Adam Lanza gunned down an elementary school and killed 26 people, including 20 children aged 6 to 7.

Sandy Hook remains the deadliest mass shooting at an elementary school in the U.S. The devastating incident, specifically the age of the victims, renewed the nation's gun safety debate in an unprecedented manner.

Nearly a decade later, the conversation has once again been thrust into the national spotlight after four students at Oxford High School were shot and killed last month.

While Lanza's circumstances differ from alleged Oxford shooter Ethan Crumbley, the involuntary manslaughter charges against Crumbley's parents suggest that authorities are sending a message to the public about who can be prosecuted in connection to a school shooting.

Lanza, who was 20 years old at the time of the Sandy Hook shooting, fatally shot his mother at their home before driving to the elementary school.

Sandy Hook School Shooting Oxford Parents Charges
Charges were brought against the parents of Ethan Crumbley, which indicates that authorities are sending a message as to who can be prosecuted in connection to a school shooting. Above, 27 wooden angel figures placed beside the road in Sandy Hook after the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut, on December 16, 2012. Corbis News/Tim Clayton

Earlier this month, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald announced that James and Jennifer Crumbley would be charged for failing to secure the handgun used in the shooting, especially since the couple was warned by school officials that their 15-year-old son could commit an act of violence.

The charges against the Crumbleys mark the first time that the parents of an accused gunman have been prosecuted in relation to the deaths of a school shooting.

While most school shootings have been perpetuated by adults or students who legally purchased their own guns, parents or family members whose firearms have been stolen and used to commit such crimes typically do not face charges.

For example, 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis allegedly used two firearms legally owned by his father to kill 10 people at Santa Fe High School in 2018. Pagourtzis' father has not been prosecuted in relation to the shooting.

Similarly, in 1998, when 11-year-old Andrew Golden and 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson fatally shot four students and a teacher in the Westside shooting using nine weapons stole from Golden's grandfather's house, the grandfather was not charged in relation to the shooting.

The only parent who has been charged following a mass shooting at a school is Raymond Fryberg, the father of the 15-year-old who killed four students at Marysville Pilchuck High School in 2014.

However, Fryberg was charged for illegally purchasing and owning the gun used in the shooting—crimes that could be prosecuted apart from the incident—and not for failing to block his son from accessing and firing the gun during the incident.

In the case of the Oxford shooting, Michigan prosecutors are arguing that the Crumbleys bear some responsibility in the November 30 deaths, charging James and Jennifer each with four counts of involuntary manslaughter for every life claimed that day.

Although the charges are an unprecedented move, they signal that the prosecution of school shootings may be beginning to shift.

"Going forward, I think this case will really change the narrative as to how prosecutors are going to charge parents," Michigan attorney Jamie White told Newsweek. "There's likely to be extraordinary scrutiny of parents in similar situations, as to whether or not they were reckless in allowing access to weapons, or ignoring extraordinary warning signs."

"Charging the parents of the alleged shooter in the Oxford school attack is a major marker that may provide an example to other prosecutors," former federal prosecutor and former elected state attorney Michael McAuliffe also told Newsweek, adding that the Crumbleys' charges were handed down due to unique evidence related to the couple's knowledge about their son.

"Each case in the future will be unique except for the shared tragedy of being attacks at schools," McAuliffe said.