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Michigan prosecutor on why she embarked on landmark trials of school shooter's parents

Crumbley prosecutor speaks out
Prosecutor in James and Jennifer Crumbley cases speaks out 05:24

Karen McDonald, the prosecutor who charged the parents of the Oxford High School shooter with involuntary manslaughter and convicted them in first-of-their-kind trials, is opening up about the decision in her only network TV interview.

Jennifer and James Crumbley were each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in December 2021, shortly after the shooting in Michigan that left four students dead and seven more injured. They were the the first parents in the United States to go on trial in a mass school shooting carried out by their child. 

"What had been done before wasn't really on my mind at all," McDonald said. "I experienced this event much like everybody across the country and particularly in the state, and I'm a parent. The very first question I asked was 'Where did he get that gun, and how did he get it?' And that question led to some really disturbing facts. ... I think it's a rare set of facts, but I also think that we don't ask the question enough. We don't. And we owe that to our kids. We owe that to our kids to ask, 'Where did that weapon come from?' instead of just focusing on the shooter." 

During the trials, McDonald and the prosecution focused on the fact that the Crumbleys had purchased the gun for their son just days before the shooting and ignored signs of his mental health needs. James Crumbley also failed to secure the weapon, the prosecution argued. 

School Shooting-Father Charged
James Crumbley enters the Oakland County Courtroom of Cheryl Matthews on Wednesday March, 13, 2024. Mandi Wright / AP

Jennifer Crumbley was convicted on four counts of involuntary manslaughter in February. James Crumbley was convicted of the same charges in March. Both will be sentenced in April.

Their son was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in September after pleading guilty to 24 charges, including murder and terrorism. 

McDonald said she hopes the conclusion of the trials will help bring closure to the families who lost their children. McDonald said that she and her team "did promise" the parents that she would "treat this case as if these were my own kids." 

"I think the sigh of relief from the four parents in the courtroom, of Madisyn (Baldwin), Justin (Shilling), Tate (Myre) and Hana (St. Juliana) was a big deal," McDonald said. "Again, this doesn't bring back their children, but it is an opportunity and a moment of accountability, and I think that's important for everyone, for those parents, for the other kids in that school, and just generally making sure that we all know we have a responsibility to act and use ordinary care, particularly with a deadly weapon and minor." 

School-Shooting Mother-Charged
Defendant Jennifer Crumbley, left, and her defense attorney, Shannon Smith, right, listen during Crumbley's trial. Katy Kildee / AP

The precedent set by the convictions of James and Jennifer Crumbley could have a wide impact, as could the terror charges that the shooter was convicted of. This was the first school shooting where the perpetrator was convicted on terrorism charges. McDonald said she hopes these landmark decisions prompt future changes.

"So many of the hundreds and hundreds of kids are affected by mass shootings, and they don't have a scratch on them, but they will never be the same," McDonald explained. "In addition, we had tragically, in Michigan, we had kids who were in the school on November 30, in Oxford that day, and they were also on campus at Michigan State University when there was an active shooting. That leaves trauma and scars, and we have to name that." 

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