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Ethan Crumbley pleads guilty to murdering 4 students at a Michigan school

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The teenager who shot and killed four classmates at Michigan's Oxford High School last year and wounded seven other people now faces the possibility of spending his life in prison. Ethan Crumbley pleaded guilty on Monday to charges including murder and terrorism. Quinn Klinefelter from member station WDET in Detroit is following the case and joins us now. Hi, Quinn.

QUINN KLINEFELTER, BYLINE: Hello.

FADEL: So, Quinn, what was the scene like at Crumbley's plea hearing?

KLINEFELTER: Well, Crumbley was very stoic and terse. He kept his head down in the courtroom. Remember; he's 16 years old.

FADEL: Right.

KLINEFELTER: Some families of his victims were there. The only thing he really said was the word yes, as a prosecutor read the 24 charges against him. His lawyers claim Crumbley is taking accountability for his actions. He pleaded guilty. It was not part of any plea deal, though. He and his attorneys decided to plead guilty entirely on their own.

FADEL: OK. So Crumbley did offer some new information - right? - that could strengthen a case against his parents, who are also charged in connection with what their son did.

KLINEFELTER: Yeah. First, let me remind you what they were charged with. Prosecutors charged the parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, with involuntary manslaughter. They accused the couple of ignoring numerous warning signs that their son was troubled and could become violent. And the prosecution alleges the Crumbleys scoffed at their son's request to receive some kind of counseling. They refused to remove him from school the day of the shooting. And their attorneys have since argued that the murder weapon, which was bought only days before the deadly rampage, was kept secure and locked away from their son. But during his plea hearing, prosecutors questioned Crumbley about that and allegations that his father had purchased the handgun as a present for his son.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROSECUTOR: Is it true that you asked him to buy the firearm?

ETHAN CRUMBLEY: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PROSECUTOR: Is it true that you gave him your own money to buy the firearm?

CRUMBLEY: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PROSECUTOR: Is it true that on November 30, 2021, that 9 mm handgun that you used in Oxford High School was not kept in a safe or locked container?

CRUMBLEY: Yes, it was not locked.

KLINEFELTER: Now, this is a different story than we heard before from defense attorneys. Not only did Ethan Crumbley say his father did not prevent him from getting ahold of the gun, he says he actually gave his father the money to buy it for him. That's the first time we've heard that allegation. The parents will have their own trial. It's scheduled for next year.

FADEL: So we've been talking about Crumbley, but how are the families of Oxford High School students responding now that the shooter has pleaded guilty?

KLINEFELTER: Well, some say it's a relief they won't have to relive the incident during a trial. Others say they fear that without a criminal trial, they'll never know all the facts. There are questions about why the school officials left Crumbley in class the day of the shooting. Some teachers were allegedly worried about his state of mind. There's some possibility of a future civil trial. Several family members have filed civil lawsuits against the Crumbleys and the school officials.

During the plea hearing, a mother broke down in the courtroom as her child's name was read. They were one of the victims of the shooting. Some of the parents spoke to the media. Meghan Gregory said that her son escaped death by running from a bathroom after Crumbley had just gunned down another student there. She says her son was too traumatized to be in the same room with Crumbley again at the plea hearing. Gregory went on to say that she believes the stories that Crumbley had a rough home life and hopes that he receives some kind of treatment, as long as he's never allowed to set foot outside of a prison again.

MEGHAN GREGORY: For instance, medication or mental health, when he didn't have that at home. So I hope that someday he does feel that remorse. I still saw evil.

KLINEFELTER: The families of the victims will have a chance to address Crumbley personally when he is sentenced next year.

FADEL: Quinn Klinefelter. Thank you so much for your time.

KLINEFELTER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quinn Klinefelter