A teen accused of killing four students and wounding seven others at a Michigan high school last year pleaded guilty Monday to all charges against him in what prosecutors are calling a landmark case.
Ethan Crumbley pleaded guilty to one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder and 19 other charges stemming from the November 30 mass shooting at Oxford High School.
“We are not aware of any other case anywhere in the country where a mass shooter has been convicted of terrorism on state charges,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said. “No one has ever been convicted of similar charges under these circumstances, an act of targeted violence like this.”
The 16-year-old, in an orange jumpsuit with a medical mask pulled below his chin Monday in an Oakland County court, answered “yes” when asked if he killed each slain victim – all identified by name.
The mother of 17-year-old victim Madisyn Baldwin started shaking and crying as soon as her daughter’s name was mentioned and Crumbley admitted to killing her. Also killed were Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17.
Crumbley also confirmed that on the day of the mass shooting, he got a gun from an unlocked container in his home, hid it in his backpack and pulled it out of his bag in a bathroom before opening fire on his schoolmates.
Attorney Ven Johnson, who is representing some of the victims’ families, told CNN it was a sad, somber and tough day for the parents but Crumbley’s testimony could help them in their civil case against the shooter, his parents and the school district.
The teen faces up to life in prison without parole on several of the charges. His parents, who have pleaded not guilty to related charges, are scheduled to be tried in January.
Since the Oxford High School tragedy in November, more than 70 shootings have taken place at schools across the country.
After Monday’s hearing – as yet another campus shooting was unfolding in St. Louis – the top prosecutor in the Oxford High School case was asked how her office’s experience in the Crumbley litigation could inform efforts to stem the nation’s gun violence scourge.
“It’s not just about sharing with other departments. Gun violence is preventable, that’s what I’ve learned. And the fact that there is another school shooting does not surprise me – which is horrific,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said.
“We need to keep the public and inform the public … on how we can prevent gun violence. It is preventable, and we should never ever allow that to be something we just should have to live with.”
‘It was tough to see him for the first time’
Several families of victims and survivors were in court for Crumbley’s guilty plea.
“It was tough to see him for the first time in person,” said Meghan Gregory, mother of survivor Keegan Gregory.
“Just getting the guilty plea alone, I know for my own child, I think that lifted a thousand pounds off his chest so he does not have to stand there and testify and relive it again,” she said.
“So for him, that was a big awakening and almost giving him permission to start the real healing process.”
Meghan Gregory tried to have some sympathy for Crumbley but didn’t think he showed any remorse, she said.
“I tried to look at him as a kid that needs help, but the closer that I’ve gotten to this, I just struggle right now to forgive anyone that murdered someone else, who tortured kids, who held my son and almost played cat and mouse in the bathroom,” Gregory said.
“It’s not OK. I’ll never have the child that was the same person he was on November 29.”
Oxford Community School Superintendent Ken Weaver said the guilty pleas were “a step toward bringing justice for Hana, Justin, Madisyn, Tate, their families, the injured and all who have been affected by that horrible day.”
Insanity defense gets withdrawn
Crumbley, who was 15 at the time of the Oxford school shooting, previously had pleaded not guilty to the charges but changed his plea at Monday’s hearing.
His defense team previously had filed a notice of an insanity defense for the teen but ultimately decided a guilty plea was in his best interest, attorney Paulette Michel Loftin said Monday.
“Originally, we filed a notice of insanity and based on the conversations that we’ve had and a review of the discovery. We felt it appropriate to withdraw that and have him plead guilty today,” Loftin said.
After Crumbley’s guilty plea Monday, state Judge Kwamé Rowe scheduled a hearing for February 9 and said he will set a sentencing date after that, allowing victims’ families to speak at the sentencing hearing.
Crumbley’s parents face involuntary manslaughter charges
The teen’s parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, have each been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter related to the shooting after prosecutors accused them of giving their son easy access to a gun and ignoring signs that he was a threat before the shooting.
James Crumbley purchased the gun used in the shooting just four days before the deadly attack, prosecutors have said.
But prosecutors allege Jennifer and James Crumbley played “a much larger role than just buying their son a gun.”
The parents have pleaded not guilty, and their attorneys have argued in court documents the charges have no legal justification and the couple should not be held responsible for the killings their son committed.
The trial for the parents was initially scheduled to begin Monday but was postponed last month to start in January.
Jennifer and James Crumbley remain in custody at a county jail. There is a no-contact order barring Ethan Crumbley from speaking to his parents.
It’s possible the teen may be called as a witness in his parents’ case, his attorney said.
Students used lessons from active shooter drills
During the teen’s arraignment, prosecutors said Ethan Crumbley “methodically and deliberately” walked the hallways, aiming a gun at students and firing at close range.
Students and teachers relied on tactics they’d learned in active shooter drills to protect themselves.
When the gunfire erupted, frightened students barricaded doors, turned off the lights, and called for help. Some of the children armed themselves with scissors in case they needed to fight back.
Six students and one teacher were injured.
Sheriff says first responders likely saved lives
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard praised the prosecutor and his own deputies for bringing a “twisted and evil” person to this point of a guilty plea, sparing survivors and victims’ families the trauma of a trial.
Bouchard pointed to a pin he wore on his uniform that was awarded to all the shooting’s first responders.
It bears four stars – one for each student killed in the shooting – and the number 18, to signify the 18 rounds Crumbley had left when apprehended by police.
“And it’s my belief that he would have fired every one of those had he not been interrupted by deputies going immediately in,” Bouchard said, comparing his team’s response to school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Parkland, Florida.
The mass shooting spurred new legislation
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also thanked the prosecutor and first responders after Crumbley’s guilty plea.
“Also, I am grateful to the Michigan Legislature for their collaboration on bipartisan legislation to invest additional resources into Oxford Community Schools to help them hire mental health professionals, enhance security, and offer additional learning time to students in the wake of the tragedy,” Whitmer said in a statement.
In June, Whitmer signed legislation that fully funds risk assessments and critical incidence mapping at every school in Michigan to help protect students and create safety plans in case of emergency, according to a statement from her office.
In July, the governor signed a bipartisan education budget that included an additional $250 million to respond to student mental health needs, with every school receiving dedicated per-student funding – $214 for every kid in every district – specifically for campus safety and mental health, her office said.
“As Michiganders, we must do more to protect each other from gun violence,” Whitmer said. “Let’s work together on background checks, secure storage, and red flag laws – commonsense gun violence prevention measures to keep our communities safe.”
CNN’s Brian Vitagliano and Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.