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Parents of Michigan school shooting suspect are charged with involuntary manslaughter

A memorial outside of Oxford High School, where four students were killed in a mass shooting Tuesday.
Scott Olson
/
A memorial outside of Oxford High School, where four students were killed in a mass shooting Tuesday.

Updated December 4, 2021 at 4:19 AM ET

Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of the 15-year-old accused of murdering four students at a high school in Michigan, have been charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter — an exceptionally rare move the prosecutor said was warranted by laying out a timeline of "egregious" mistakes and missed opportunities to prevent the shooting.

Early Saturday, they were captured after a Detroit business owner spotted their car and tipped off police.

The parents of Ethan Crumbley purchased the handgun used in Tuesday's shooting at Oxford High School, apparently as a Christmas gift for their son on Black Friday, and stored it improperly, said Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald at a news conference midday Friday.

Then, when called to a meeting Tuesday morning by school officials to discuss a disturbing, violent drawing made by their son, the parents did not inquire about the whereabouts of the gun or inform the school that they had recently purchased a gun for him, said McDonald.

After the meeting, the younger Crumbley was allowed to return to class. Shortly afterward, authorities say, he fatally shot four fellow students and wounded six others and a teacher.

"These charges are intended to hold the individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable and also send a message that gun owners have a responsibility. When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences," McDonald said.

Law enforcement authorities in Michigan had searched for the Crumbleys on Friday afternoon after the charges were announced, according to the Oakland County Sheriff's Office, which released images of the couple and details of their vehicle in an alert urging the public to help locate them.

"The action of fleeing and ignoring their attorney certainly adds weight to the charges," Sheriff Michael Bouchard said in a statement.

The U.S. Marshals Service said Friday that it was also involved in the search for the parents.

A lawyer representing the parents said they had not fled but rather left town for their own safety, according to The Daily Beast.

"They are returning to the area to be arraigned. They are not fleeing from law enforcement despite recent comments in media reports," lawyer Shannon Smith told the site.

However, The Associated Press reported early Saturday that the Crumbleys "appeared to be hiding" in the building where they were found, according to Detroit Police Chief James E. White.

If convicted, Jennifer and James Crumbley face up to 15 years in prison for each count. Ethan Crumbley has been charged with 24 felonies, including four counts of murder and one count of terrorism. The younger Crumbley was arrested after the shooting Tuesday.

Asked whether prosecutors were considering charges against any other parties, including school officials who allowed Crumbley to return to class, McDonald declined to answer, saying only that "the investigation is ongoing."

The prosecutor describes the parents' conduct before the shooting

The 9 mm Sig Sauer SP2022 pistol used in Tuesday's shooting at the high school in Oxford township, a small community north of Detroit, was purchased by James Crumbley at a local gun shop, authorities said. His son, Ethan Crumbley, was with him at the time of the purchase, they said.

Jennifer Crumbley referred to the gun as their son's "new Christmas present" in a social media post, McDonald said during Friday's news conference. She added that the gun was stored unlocked in a drawer in the parents' bedroom.

The day before the shooting, an Oxford High School teacher reported Ethan Crumbley, a sophomore at the school, after the teacher spotted him using his phone to search for ammunition, the prosecutor said.

School officials left a voicemail and email for Jennifer Crumbley, who did not respond, according to McDonald. But Crumbley sent a text message to her son that said, "LOL I'm not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught."

Then, on the morning of the shooting, the prosecutor said, Ethan Crumbley's teacher found a drawing on Ethan Crumbley's desk of a handgun, bullet and shooting victim, with the words "blood everywhere" and "the thoughts won't stop, help me."

Disturbed, the teacher informed school authorities, who called both James and Jennifer Crumbley to the school; they were told they would be required to seek counseling for their son.

"Both James and Jennifer Crumbley failed to ask if their son had his gun with him or where his gun was located, and failed to inspect his backpack for the presence of the gun, which he had with him," McDonald said.

The parents "resisted the idea" of Ethan Crumbley leaving school at that time, McDonald said. Afterward, Crumbley returned to class. Just before 1 p.m., he entered a bathroom wearing a backpack, then came out with the pistol in his hand and began shooting, authorities have said.

"When the news of the active shooter at Oxford High School had been made public, Jennifer Crumbley texted to her son at 1:22 p.m., 'Ethan, don't do it,' " McDonald said. Fifteen minutes later, James Crumbley called 911 to report that the gun was missing and that it may be his son who committed the school shooting.

"I have tremendous compassion and empathy for parents who have children who are struggling and at risk for whatever reason," McDonald said. "But the facts of this are so egregious."

Four students have died: Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17. Authorities do not believe any students were targeted in particular.

Six other students and a 47-year-old teacher were wounded, authorities said.

"Gun ownership is a right. And with that right comes great responsibility," McDonald said.

The case has seen rare charges for a school shooting

The involuntary manslaughter charges for the suspect's parents are highly unusual for a school shooting. But Michigan's criminal code does not give prosecutors more straightforward options: The state is not among those with laws that specifically target children's access to guns, nor does it have a negligent gun storage statute, according to the Giffords Law Center, a research group that advocates for gun control laws.

The Oakland County prosecutor advocated for strengthening the state's gun laws at her news conferences this week, calling the laws "woefully inadequate."

In addition to the rare step of charging the shooter's parents, prosecutors' decision to charge the younger Crumbley with terrorism is unusual in Michigan. The criminal complaint accuses Crumbley of "intending to intimidate or coerce" the high school community.

"What about all the children who ran, screaming, hiding under desks? What about all the children at home right now, who can't eat and can't sleep and can't imagine a world where they could ever step foot back in that school? Those are victims too, and so are their families and so is the community," McDonald said at a news conference Wednesday. "The charge of terrorism reflects that."

Ethan Crumbley currently faces 24 felony counts, including four counts of first-degree murder and seven counts of assault with intent to murder, in addition to the terrorism charge. He has pleaded not guilty to all. He will be tried as an adult and faces life in prison if convicted.

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