The teenage student who killed four classmates in a shooting rampage at a Michigan high school last year pleaded guilty on Monday to two dozen charges, including terrorism – an extraordinarily unusual charge in a school shooting.

Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 when he opened fire at an Oxford, Mich., high school, was charged as an adult with one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder and 12 counts of possession of a firearm.

News of his plan to plead guilty emerged Friday, nearly 10 months after his lawyers said in court filings that they planned to pursue an insanity defense.

Crumbley’s guilty plea to even one count of first-degree murder could lead to him spending the rest of his life in prison.

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Ethan Crumbley answers yes to charges against him posed by an assistant prosecutor during his pre-trial hearing at Oakland County Courthouse on Monday in Pontiac, Mich. Crumbley entered the guilty plea to 24 criminal charges. Clarence Tabb Jr./Detroit News via Associated Press

The Nov. 30 shooting prompted extraordinary charges: a state-level domestic terrorism count against the suspect and involuntary manslaughter charges against his parents, who bought him the gun used in the attack.



Crumbley’s case is notable for the fact that most defendants in school and mass shooting cases never make it to trial; most kill themselves or are killed by police during a standoff. But his state terrorism charge represents a relatively novel approach to prosecuting mass shootings.

Michigan was an early adopter of the post-9/11 trend in making terrorism a state-level felony and has among the most robust laws of the 34 states and District of Columbia that prosecute terrorism at the state level. The laws were originally developed for a very different purpose than the way they’re being used in the Crumbley case, according to Javed Ali, a University of Michigan public policy professor who worked in counterterrorism for the federal government.

Sandra Cunningham of Oxford, Michigan, comforts her daughter Phoebe Arthur, 15, who was a shooting victim of Ethan Crumbley, during his pretrial hearing at Oakland County Courthouse on Monday in Pontiac, Mich. Clarence Tabb Jr./Detroit News via Associated Press

“Even though the [laws] have been on the books for years, for some reason it only seems now that prosecutors and attorneys general are using this part of their tool kit to be more aggressive about mass shootings,” Ali said.

Michigan’s law is one way state and local authorities can fill the gap in federal law, since there is no federal charge of domestic terrorism, only a statutory definition of it. That’s why every act of violence in the United States that fits the definition of domestic terrorism is never federally charged as such, Ali said.

School Shooting Michigan

In this Feb. 8 photo, Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, a teenager accused of killing four students in a shooting at Oxford High School, appear in court for a preliminary examination on involuntary manslaughter charges in Rochester Hills, Mich. Paul Sancya/Associated Press

“It’s usually a hate crime or a conspiracy charge,” he said.

The Oxford attack marks a turning point in how mass shootings are being prosecuted, Ali said, citing the suspect of the Topps Grocery store shooting suspect in Buffalo who was indicted on hate crime charges at the state and federal level, and on New York domestic terrorism charges.


Last year, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald explained that her decision to bring the terrorism charge against Crumbley was a way to address the victims and their families who may have survived the shooting but whose lives were permanently altered by it.

“What about all the children who ran, screaming, hiding under desks?” McDonald said at a news conference. “What about all the children at home right now who can’t eat and can’t sleep and can’t imagine a world where they could ever set foot back in that school? Those are victims, too, and so are their families, and so is the community. And the charge of terrorism reflects that.”

Ali suspected that state-level terrorism charges could become a model for how mass shootings are prosecuted.

“It can be used to investigate and prosecute,” he said of the charge. “But will it deter? that’s the $64,000 question.”


Crumbley’s plea means he could be compelled to testify at his parents’ trial; if subpoenaed, he could not invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination because he has already pleaded guilty to his charges.


James and Jennifer Crumbley last year were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, another relatively rare move in which prosecutors sought to spread liability for a mass shooting to a suspect’s parents. Investigators said the Crumbleys purchased a firearm for their son as a gift and allegedly did not intervene when he showed signs of distress.

After the shooting, prosecutors revealed that the Oxford High teachers had raised concerns about Ethan Crumbley to his parents up to the day of the shooting when they summoned the family to school for a meeting.

“I am by no means saying that an active-shooter situation should always result in a criminal prosecution against parents,” McDonald said at the time. “But the facts of this case are so egregious.”

On the day of the shooting, a teacher found a drawing of a semiautomatic handgun with a written note: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” James and Jennifer Crumbley met with school administrators that morning, but refused to take their son home, allowing him to return to class.

Hours later, when news of the shooting broke, Jennifer Crumbley texted her son: “Ethan, don’t do it.”

The couple, who have pleaded not guilty, tried in July to have their case thrown out, arguing that they never should have been charged because their son is the sole person responsible for killing four people.

Their trial was set to begin Monday but was postponed over apparent challenges from the defense to the kind of expert testimony that may be allowed at their trial, according to court records. No new date has been set.

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