Opinion: An uneven scale of justice?


As the saying goes, everyone has a mother who loves them, even the bad guys. In 2021, 15-year-old Ethan Crumble walked into his suburban high school in Michigan and slaughtered four of his classmates and severely injured seven more. Ultimately pleading guilty to charges of terrorism and murder, he is serving life in prison without the opportunity for parole. Last week, his mother, Jennifer, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and will be sentenced April 9, facing up to 60 years in prison. Dad’s trial is next.

The proceeding revolved around whether a mother is criminally responsible for the actions of her child and the harm that they cause others. Mom’s commitment to her extramarital affair and her preoccupation with horses were central elements. Evidence was presented that Mom bought a weapon for her son as a Christmas present and should have known that he had mental health issues, citing text messages from the boy to her about “demons” in their family home. Regardless, Mom held that he was just “fooling around,” they were a normal family, and she considered herself to be a “helicopter” parent, highly engaged in her son’s friend group and grades. The jury didn’t buy it.

What is the cost to the mother for the sins of her son? What are the limits of what a parent must know and understand about mental health and its potential downstream consequences? Does extramarital activity that generates anger in a child become the responsibility of the adults involved, too? Does Mom’s lover deserve a trial? Is a car, baseball bat or Swiss Army knife an appropriate gift for anyone who lives under our roof? Is it time to jail parents with their errant kids and put the siblings in foster care? For Michigan, it seems like it is.