A teenager in the US state of Michigan who fatally shot four students at his Detroit-area high school last year has pleaded guilty to two dozen charges, including terrorism and first-degree murder.
Ethan Crumbley answered “yes” in court on Monday when asked whether he “knowingly, willfully and deliberately” shot the victims at Oxford High School, north of Detroit.
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The 16-year-old, whose legal team had earlier withdrawn a notice of intent to pursue an insanity defence, now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“This is an important day for our community, the survivors and especially those who lost children they loved,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, who oversaw the case, told reporters after the hearing.
Crumbley opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun at the high school on November 30, killing four fellow students and injuring seven others. The incident renewed a debate across the United States about gun safety and mass shootings.
In a rare move, McDonald also charged Crumbley’s parents with involuntary manslaughter after they were accused of allowing him access to the gun used in the incident.
On the day of the shooting, Crumbley’s parents were called to the school after a teacher discovered a note on the teenager’s desk depicting a person who appeared to be shot alongside a gun, a bullet and the words “blood everywhere” and “Help me.”
The parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, were told to get counselling for Ethan, but left after the meeting and the teenager was allowed back into the classroom.
Jennifer Crumbley had previously referred to the gun on social media as a “Christmas present” for her son. The parents have pleaded not guilty.
On Monday, McDonald said the teenage Crumbley had confirmed that the gun was not locked at home before he brought it to school and that his father had bought the gun for him with the teenager’s own money.
She stressed that Crumbley’s guilty plea was not part of a deal between the defence and the prosecution.
“We are not aware of any other case anywhere in the country where a mass shooter has been convicted of terrorism on state charges,” the prosecutor said. “No one has ever been convicted of similar charges under the circumstances.”
McDonald added that the “terrorism” charge was important because it allowed anyone who was present at the school and was “terrorised” by the shooting to have a voice in the legal proceedings and speak in court.
A sentencing hearing in the case is set for February 9. McDonald did not confirm whether prosecutors will request life without parole for Crumbley.
“I’m going to follow the law, which is to consider all the factors,” she said. “But again, today – as I was talking to the victims – what we’re really trying to do is just take a moment and process what happened and then move forward.”
The shooting also sparked civil lawsuits against the school district and the Crumbleys.
“Ethan Crumbley’s guilty plea is one small step forward on a long path towards obtaining full justice for our clients,” Ven Johnson, a lawyer representing several families of the victims, said in a statement. “We will continue to fight until the truth is revealed about what went wrong leading up to this tragedy.”