The Michigan teen whose murderous rampage took the lives of four classmates at Oxford High School in November 2021, will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
That’s the sentence handed-down by a Michigan judge after hours of often heart-wrenching statements by survivors and families of the victims, among others.
It was just over two years ago when then-15-year-old Ethan Crumbley emerged from an Oxford High bathroom with a handgun and began methodically firing at students and a school employee. He killed four of his classmates — most shot at point-blank range — then put his gun down and calmly waited for law enforcement officials to arrive.
Crumbley pleaded guilty last year to 24 felonies, including murder and terrorism. It’s unusual to file a terror charge in such a case, but prosecutors say it reflects the trauma the shooting inflicted on everyone from children who hid under their desks during the massacre to an entire Oxford community scarred by the heinous nature of the act.
Victims speak out
In court on Friday, those who survived the gunfire in the school hallway again faced Crumbley to share their testimony about the traumatic incident and urge the judge to sentence him to life in prison. Families of those involved in the shooting also addressed Crumbley, who kept his head bowed throughout most of the proceedings.
Amid tears and tales of continuing trauma, former student Kylie Ossege described how Crumbley’s bullets tore into her back, near her spine, leaving her with debilitating injuries.
Ossege says she constantly relives the moment she crumpled to the floor of the school hallway next to student Hana St. Juliana, who was dying from another gun shot.
“Fifteen minutes of lying there absolutely helpless,” Ossege remembered. “Fifteen minutes of lying in a pool of my own blood. Fifteen minutes of hearing Hana St. Juliana’s last sounds while stroking her hair and trying to encourage her.”
St. Juliana’s father, Steve St. Juliana, was among the parents of Oxford students who talked about families struggling to stay together in the aftermath of the shooting, even marriages falling apart.
St. Juliana echoed repeated calls from parents and students for the judge to deny Crumbley any chance at parole, no matter how young he was when he pulled the trigger.
“He purposely murdered my daughter in order to make himself feel better. His age plays no part. His potential is irrelevant. There is utterly nothing he could ever do to contribute to society that would make up for the lives that he has so ruthlessly taken,” St. Juliana said.
Ethan Crumbley responds
Crumbley’s attorneys and his court-appointed guardian argued he was at the mercy of a youthful brain still developing amid a troubled home life.
They said he was not the same person as he was two years ago; that he was remorseful, on medication and regularly reading the Bible.
And for the first time since he pleaded guilty last year, Crumbley himself spoke in court.
He told the judge he deserved any sentence that would make families in Oxford feel safe and secure again.
But Crumbley added that he believed he could rehabilitate himself in prison.
“Because I really am sorry for what I’ve done, what I’ve taken of them. I cannot give it back. But I can try my best in the future to help other people and that is what I will do,” Crumbley said.
Judge Rowe’s decision
The last-minute mea culpa appeared to carry little weight with Judge Kwame Rowe.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that a judge must weigh factors like a teen’s upbringing and mental state along with the facts of the crime they committed before sentencing an underaged offender to life without the chance for parole.
But the prosecution contends Crumbley is that rare juvenile that deserves Michigan’s harshest penalty.
They note he not only planned the shooting but also researched how long it would take police to arrive so he could surrender in time to enjoy watching the carnage he’d created.
Judge Rowe said he believes there’s little chance that Crumbley could ever truly be reformed.
“He chose not to die on that day because he wanted the notoriety. Respectfully, defendant is the rare juvenile before this court.”
Rowe sentenced Crumbley to life without parole, a sentence the teen’s attorneys say he’s already signed the paperwork necessary to appeal.
And the legal questions regarding the case go even further.
The shooter’s parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, face their own separate trials on charges of involuntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors accuse the parents of being grossly negligent by ignoring their son’s pleas for help with his mental health and instead buying him the eventual murder weapon as a present.
The prosecution alleges the Crumbleys did not prevent their son from gaining access to the gun and never told school officials it might be in his possession the day of the shooting. They also refused to take him out of class that day despite a request to do so from school officials.
The parents defense attorneys say the prosecution is misrepresenting the facts.
The case is believed to be the first involuntary manslaughter charges ever filed against the parents of a teenaged mass shooter who attacked a school.