RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A national conversation about parental responsibility is unfolding in the wake of a trial against Jennifer Crumbley, whose 15-year-old son will spend the rest of his life behind bars for shooting 11 people at his Michigan high school, killing four of his classmates in 2021.
The laws in Michigan are relatively parallel to the laws in North Carolina, according to litigation lawyer Donald Clack with the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin.
Crumbley is accused of not taking steps to stop her son from pulling the trigger. She's facing involuntary manslaughter charges and could spend up to 15 years behind bars if convicted. The jury is still deliberating her case. Her husband, James Crumbley, will be tried separately for the same crime. His trial has not yet begun.
Prosecutors say Jennifer Crumbley was grossly negligent when she failed to tell Oxford High School officials that the family had guns, including a 9mm handgun that was used by her son, Ethan Crumbley, at a shooting range just a few days earlier.
The school was concerned about a macabre drawing of a gun, bullet, and wounded man, accompanied by desperate phrases, on a math assignment. But Ethan was allowed to stay in school on Nov. 30, 2021, following a roughly 12-minute meeting with his parents, who didn't take him home. His backpack was also not checked, though it contained the gun he would use later that day in the mass shooting.
Defense attorney Shannon Smith told jurors that a conviction would have a chilling effect on unwitting parents whose children break the law. The tragedy, she argued, was not foreseeable.
Regardless, laws in states like Michigan and North Carolina can be interpreted to hold parents accountable for the actions of their children.
Clack said he believes the prosecution in Michigan will open the door for more parents across the country to be prosecuted to hold them accountable for shootings perpetrated by their children.
"I hope that that's the case because I don't think plausible deniability is an all-encompassing excuse anymore," Clack said, and he added that parents have more access to their children's activities now than ever using technology. He said he believes parents need to take more responsibility to ensure their children aren't a danger to others.
In North Carolina, it's against the law for children younger than 18 to own a handgun or to use it without the supervision of an adult in most cases.
If a child takes a gun to school, parents can be charged. If a child uses a gun to harm others, parents can be charged as well.
In most cases in North Carolina, parents would face a misdemeanor for failing to secure their firearms from their children.
It brings to mind the misdemeanor charge filed by Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman against Alan Thompson, whose 15-year-old son Austin is believed to have killed five people in the Headingham neighborhood shooting rampage in 2022. Both are still awaiting trial.
Click here for the full statute relating to minor and firearms in the state of North Carolina.