Ethan Crumbley was sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars during a hearing in which he addressed loved ones of the four Michigan high school students he killed two years ago.
Family members of the four students killed at Oxford High School on 30 November 2021 gave heart-wrenching victim impact statements during an emotional hearing at an Oakland County courtroom on Friday. Judge Kwamé Rowe then handed down a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
The shooter killed Madisyn Baldwin, 17, Tate Myre, 16, Hana St Juliana, 14, and Justin Shilling, 17, at the school in Oxford Township, about 40 miles north of Detroit. Six other students and a teacher also were wounded.
The shooter had pleaded guilty to all 24 charges in the shooting, including first-degree murder and terrorism. Because Crumbley was 15 at the time of the shooting, there was also a possibility that he could have received a shorter sentence — anywhere from 25 years to 40 years — that would have eventually made him eligible for release by the state parole board.
“Today is about victims. Today we learned their names. Their faces. We heard their voices,” said Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald. “The sheer force of destruction, violence, trauma and murder the shooter caused that day did not stop at the doorway of Oxford High School. It was carried through the doors and out into the community.”
“We cannot understand. But we can give them the grace and dignity they deserve by listening.”
Crumbley addressed the court and apologised to the victims’s families, also asking the judge to grant the sentence that survivors saw fit. Crumbley said he “was trying to change” and was already making progress, seemingly showing remorse for the four lives that he cut short and the countless others that he impacted.
“All I want is for the people I’ve hurt to have a final sense that justice somewhat was served in any fit capacity that they recognise,” Crumbley said. “Any sentence that they ask for, I ask that you impose it on me. Because I want them to be happy, I want them to feel secure and safe. I do not want them to worry another day.
“But I really am sorry for what I’ve done and what I’ve taken from them, I cannot give it back, but I can try my best in the future to help other people and that’s what I’ll do.”
His attorneys had previously tried to argue that Crumbley could benefit from rehabilitation and a chance at freedom decades from now. But Judge Rowe said that the evidence suggested Crumbley carried out the attack with the sole purpose of causing harm and because he wanted to go down in history as “the biggest shooter.”
“The court cannot ignore that,” Judge Rowe told the court. “He has an obsession with violence. This act involved extensive planning and research and he executed every last thing that he planned.”
The judge also addressed victims in the courtroom.
“I know that whatever sentence the court imposes will not bring your loved one back or cure the mental anguish or lifelong physical scars that some of you have,” he said. “But I hope that this sentence does allow you to close a chapter in your life.”
Crumbley remained emotionless and stared down at the table as families of the victims and survivors of the attack shared with the court the horrors they experienced on the day of the shooting.
Baldwin’s mother Nicole Beausoleil, the first to speak, recounted desperately asking school officials for news about her daughter before being told that she had died. Ms Beausoleil said she had to be dragged away from the morgue after identifying her daughter’s lifeless body.
“That was not my daughter, Madisyn was far from lifeless,” Ms Beausoleil said, struggling to contain her tears. “I hope the screams keep you at night and they cause real hallucinations … [I hope] those four walls become your home suffocating in guilt.”
Buck Myre also remembered learning about the shooting from his wife and rushing to a Meijer store where Oxford High School families gathered waiting for news about their children.
“[My wife] put her head in her hands and she said, ‘Not my baby boy,’” Mr Myre said. “Our family has been navigating our way through complete hell … We wear the pain like a heavy coat, constant reminders every day. Every hour is the darkest time of the day.”
Mr Myre also spoke of forgiveness for Crumbley, his parents and school administrators whose failures contributed to the tragedy.
“We are miserable. We miss Tate,” he added.
Justin Shilling’s father Craig Shilling asked Judge Rowe to give Crumbley, whose name Mr Shilling avoided through his statement, the harshest sentence possible.
“This unfair reality is something I will never get over … I still find myself waiting up for [my son] … it’s unbearable to know that he’s never going to walk through that door,” Mr Shilling said. “I going to ask you to lock this son of a b**** up for the rest of his pathetic life.”
“My son doesn’t get a second chance, and neither should he,” Mr Shilling added.
Hannah St Juliana’s sister Reina St Juliana spoke about loving and missing her sister, and life not being the same after 30 November 2021. Ms St Juliana described the shooter as “a creature that left Hannah lying in a pool of blood crying in pain and then went to shoot her again.”
“[He] does not deserve to take another breath,” Ms St Juliana said. “I’m sorry I can’t feel even a fraction of the world because If I did, the shooter would be dead.”
“I’m just going through the motions because apparently we are supposed to move on. Loving Hannah shouldn’t be this painful, and life shouldn’t be this paralysing,” she added. “I don’t want to wake up every morning because Hana is not here. I don’t want to be happy because Hana is my happy.”
Crumbley’s guardian ad litem Deborah McKelvy described him as a “life that is salvageable,” an artist and troubled teen who was a victim of violent thoughts and lack of parental involvement. His attorney Paulette Loftin said she had seen Crumbley “go through all of the stages of grief,” but the teen is now a “different person” after receiving counselling and psychiatric treatment.
“To me, his life is worth salvaging, his life is worth rehabilitating,” Ms McKelvy said. “And I know everybody who spoke here today probably cannot see that but his life is worth more than the worst thing he did.”
In a journal, the shooter wrote about his desire to watch students suffer and the likelihood that he would spend his life in prison. He made a video on the eve of the shooting, declaring what he would do the next day.
“I want to shoot up the school so f***ing badly,” Crumbley wrote in one entry of the journal, recovered from his backpack in a school bathroom after the shooting. “The first victim has to be a pretty girl with a future so she can suffer just like me … I want America to hear what I did,” he also wrote.
“I will cause the largest school shooting in the state. I wish to hear the screams of the children as I shoot them.”
Previous court hearings have heard alarming details about potential signs of violence that were missed by school officials.
The weekend before the shooting, prosecutors say Crumbley purchased the Sig Sauer 9mm used in the attack at a gun store in Oxford. His mother Jennifer Crumbley posted a message on social media that weekend saying, “mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present,” according to prosecutors.
Like their son, Jennifer and James Crumbley are locked up in the county jail. They are awaiting trial on involuntary manslaughter charges, accused of making a gun accessible at home and neglecting their son’s mental health.
On 29 November, a teacher caught Crumbley searching for ammunition online, prosecutors say. School officials contacted Crumbley’s parents by phone and email, but they did not answer.
Jennifer Crumbley allegedly texted her son that day, saying: “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”
On the day of the shooting, a teacher found a drawing on Crumbley’s desk depicting a school massacre. The illustration showed a semiautomatic handgun pointing at the words “the thoughts won’t stop help me,” prosecutors said.
It also depicted a drawing of a bullet with the words “blood everywhere” written above it. The words “my life is useless” and “the world is dead” were also seen next to a laughing emoji.
Crumbley and his parents met with school staff on the day of the shooting after a teacher noticed violent drawings, but no one checked his backpack for a gun and he was allowed to stay.
The Oxford school district hired an outside group to conduct an independent investigation. A report released in October said “missteps at each level” — school board, administrators, staff — contributed to the tragedy.