A judge sentenced a Michigan teenager to life in prison Friday for killing four students and terrorizing others at Oxford High School, after listening to hours of gripping anguish from parents and wounded survivors.
Judge Kwame Rowe rejected pleas from defense lawyers for a shorter sentence and ensured that Ethan Crumbley, 17, will not get an opportunity for parole.
Moments before learning his fate, the teen apologized and appeared to agree with his victims that the stiffest punishment was appropriate.
“Any sentence that they ask for, I ask that you do impose it on me,” the shooter said. “I want them to be happy, and I want them to feel secure and safe. I do not want them to worry another day. I really am sorry for what I’ve done. … But I can try my best in the future to help other people, and that is what I will do.”
Life sentences for teenagers are rare in Michigan, since the U.S. Supreme Court and the state’s highest court said the acts of minors must be viewed differently than the crimes of adults. But Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said a no-parole order fit the Oxford case.
“It’s not a moment to celebrate,” McDonald said outside court. “It’s tragic. And the voices today, I think, profoundly show that.”
Indeed, Rowe’s decision followed deeply emotional remarks by families of the deceased and survivors who said the tragedy had irreparably turned their lives upside down.
Crumbley, who was 15 when he committed the shooting, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and terrorism. He brought a gun to school, but his backpack was never checked, even after his parents were summoned that same day about their son’s drawings, which included a gun and words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”
“I am a really bad person. I’ve done terrible things,” Crumbley said in court Friday.
The judge said the shooting was planned well in advance, and he noted that the shooter had plenty of time to stop as he walked through school.
Rowe was especially troubled by how victim Hana St. Juliana was repeatedly shot and that another, Justin Shilling, was shot at point-blank range in a bathroom while another student was forced to watch. He described it as “execution” and “torture.”
“The court cannot ignore the deep trauma caused to the state of Michigan and the Oxford community,” the judge said.
Earlier, Rowe allowed a framed photo of Tate Myre to be placed near him while the slain teen’s father spoke.
“We are miserable. We miss Tate,” Buck Myre said. “Our family has a permanent hole in it that can never be fixed—ever.”
Nicole Beausoleil recalled seeing the body of her daughter, Madisyn Baldwin, at the medical examiner’s office, her hand with blue-painted fingernails sticking out from a covering.
“I looked though the glass. My scream should have shattered it,” Beausoleil said.
Shilling’s mother, Jill Soave, told the shooter that he executed a boy who could have helped him navigate awkward teenage years.
“If you were that lonely, that miserable and lost, and you really needed a friend, Justin would have been your friend—if only you had asked,” Soave said.
Kylie Ossege explained how she had urged St. Juliana a “thousand times” to keep breathing while they waited for help on a blood-soaked carpet. Her classmate died.
Ossege, now a college student, was shot and continues to struggle with daily pain from spinal injuries.
“Being able to swing a leg over my horse is my therapy. It is pure joy,” she said of Blaze. “I have not been able to do it for two years.”
Crumbley’s defense team urged the judge to give him a chance to turn his life around and become eligible for parole. A court-appointed guardian, lawyer Deborah McKelvy, said the teen was not the same person, two years after the murders.
“He is a bright young man,” she told the judge. “He is an artist. He is a historian. There are days I have been oblivious sitting in a cell for three hours just talking to him. His life is salvageable.”
Defense lawyer Paulette Michel Loftin said Crumbley has improved with medication and mental health care.
“He is remorseful. He has been able to keep out the dark voices and thoughts,” Loftin said.
But victims weren’t impressed.
“There can be no rehabilitation,” St. Juliana’s father, Steve St. Juliana, told the judge. “There is absolutely nothing the defendant can do to earn my forgiveness. His age plays no part.”
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.
Linda Watson said her son Aiden, who was shot in the leg, still doesn’t go to school for a full day. She recalled the family staying in a hotel because a nail gun being used in her neighborhood sounded like a real gun to him.
“Aiden will be dealing with this for the rest of his life. … This shooter—this monster—should have to feel everything hard and painful for the rest of his life,” Watson said.
Meanwhile, parents 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.
The shooting happened in Oxford Township, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) north of Detroit. Besides the four students who were killed, six more students and a teacher also were wounded.
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.
Crumbley’s behavior in class, including looking at a shooting video and gun ammunition on his phone, should have identified him as a “potential threat of violence,” the report said.