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Michigan teenager gets life in prison for high school attack

Ethan Crumbley was in court listening to victim impact statements (Carlos Osorio, Pool/AP)
Ethan Crumbley was in court listening to victim impact statements (Carlos Osorio, Pool/AP)

A teenager has been sentenced to life in prison for killing four students, wounding more and terrorising Michigan’s Oxford High School in 2021.

A judge rejected pleas for a shorter sentence and ensured that Ethan Crumbley, 17, will not get an opportunity for parole.

“My actions were what I chose to do. I could not stop myself… I am a really bad person. I’ve done terrible things,” Crumbley, who was 15 at the time of the attack, said before the sentence was announced.

He said he was sorry and pledged to change while behind bars.

Life sentences for teenagers are rare in Michigan since the US Supreme Court and the state’s highest court said the violent acts of minors must be viewed differently than the crimes of adults.

Judge Kwame Rowe’s decision followed anguished remarks by families of the deceased and survivors who spoke about how the tragedy has affected them.

“Your statements,” Judge Rowe said, “do not fall on deaf ears.”

Crumbley pleaded guilty to 24 charges, including first-degree murder and terrorism.

“We are miserable. We miss Tate,” said Buck Myre, the father of Tate Myre. “Our family has a permanent hole in it that can never be fixed – ever.”

Kylie Ossege
Kylie Ossege described how she had urged Hana St Juliana to keep breathing while they waited for help (Carlos Osorio, Pool/AP)

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,” Ms Beausoleil said.

Jill Soave, the mother of Justin Shilling, told the gunman 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,” Ms Soave said.

Crumbley looked down as Ms Soave and others spoke.

Kylie Ossege explained how she had urged Hana St Juliana a “thousand times” to keep breathing while they waited for help on a blood-soaked carpet. Her classmate died.

Ms 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.”

Buck Myre, the father of Tate Myre, gives his victim impact statement
Buck Myre, the father of Tate Myre, gives his victim impact statement (Carlos Osorio/AP)

Defence lawyer Paulette Michel Loftin has argued Crumbley deserves an opportunity for parole after his “sick brain” is fixed through counselling and rehabilitation.

But Hana’s father scoffed at that possibility.

“There can be no rehabilitation,” 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 gunman 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.

More than 20 people gave victim-impact statements by early Friday afternoon. Some wore shirts honouring the fallen students. The judge briefly allowed a framed photo of Tate to be placed near him.

Speakers recalled the day and its aftermath in details large and small. One woman said she is still anxious simply pulling into Meijer, a store where families reunited immediately after the shooting.

Linda Watson said her son, Aiden, who was shot in the leg, still does not go to school for a full day. She recalled the family staying in a hotel because a nail gun being used in her neighbourhood 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,” Ms Watson said.

Judge Kwame Rowe
Judge Kwame Rowe presided over the sentencing hearing of Ethan Crumbley (Carlos Osorio, Pool/AP)

Like their son, 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 the gunman’s mental health.

Crumbley and his parents met school staff on the day of the shooting after a teacher noticed violent drawings. But no one checked his backpack for a gun and he was allowed to stay.

The shooting happened in Oxford Township, about 40 miles north of Detroit. Besides the four students who were killed, six more students and a teacher 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 behaviour 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.