Parents Of Oxford School Shooting Suspect Ethan Crumbley Charged With Involuntary Manslaughter

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A Michigan prosecutor has filed charges against the parents of a 15-year-old boy accused of fatally shooting his classmates at an Oakland County high school earlier this week, a rare move she said was justified by the “egregious” facts of the case.

James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley, face four counts each of involuntary manslaughter, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald announced Friday. Authorities say the teenager killed four students and wounded seven people at Oxford High School on Nov. 30 while using a semiautomatic handgun purchased days earlier by his father in the deadliest school shooting in more than three years.

“While the shooter was the one who entered the high school and pulled the trigger, there were other individuals who contributed to the events,” McDonald said.

McDonald declined to say whether the Crumbleys were in custody.

The decision comes after authorities said that James Crumbley bought the 9mm, Sig Sauer, SP 2022 pistol on Nov. 26. An employee of Acme Shooting Goods in Oxford, Mich., confirmed Ethan was present when his father bought the gun, McDonald said. She cited social media posts from the parents that confirm the gun was for their son.

McDonald read to reporters several pieces of evidence Friday, including a social media post by Jennifer Crumbley shortly after the gun was purchased that showed her and Ethan at a gun range together. The caption read: “Mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present.”

On Nov. 21, days before the shooting, a teacher at Oxford High School noticed Ethan using his cellphone to search for information on firearm ammunition. When Jennifer Crumbley was contacted by the school via voice mail about her son’s troubling Internet search, she never responded, McDonald said. Instead, she exchanged text messages with her son that read, “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”

Ethan Crumbley

David Chipman, a veteran Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agent once nominated to lead the agency, said if prosecutors find evidence the shooter’s parents acted unlawfully, the criminal justice system has a duty to act.

“As gun owners, we have a responsibility that when we acquire firearms, we don’t put our neighbors, and in particular their children, at risk,” Chipman said. “If a parent provided their car to an unlicensed teen for a night of drunken joyriding, no one would be shocked if a prosecutor sought to hold the adults accountable.”

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard has previously said Crumbley’s parents were not cooperating with investigators.

Authorities say Oxford shooting suspect’s gun purchased by father
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard shared the first details about the weapon used in the deadly shooting at Oxford High School on Nov. 30. (AP)

On the day of the shooting, the Crumbleys had been summoned to the school by administrators concerned about their son after a teacher found a note at Ethan’s desk that was so troubling she took a photo of it, McDonald said. In it was a drawing of a semiautomatic handgun pointing at the words “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”

Another section of the note had a drawing of a bullet with the words, “blood everywhere.” There was also a drawing of a bloody figure with two gunshot wounds, and another drawing of a laughing emoji, McDonald said.

By the time the meeting began after 10 a.m. Ethan had already altered the note, scratching out several parts of it, McDonald said. He attended the meeting with his parents in the counselor’s office with his backpack. McDonald noted that at no point did his parents ask him if he had the gun or check his backpack.

The parents “resisted the idea of their son leaving the school at that time,” McDonald said. Ethan later returned to class. Less than three hours later, the first 911 calls were made about shots fired at the school.

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When the news of the active shooting became public, McDonald said Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, writing: “Ethan, don’t do it.”

Moments later, James Crumbley drove to the family home to check the location of the gun — which McDonald said had been stored “unlocked in a drawer” in the couple’s bedroom. The elder Crumbley called 911 to report the gun missing and that his son might be the shooter.

The Crumbleys have shared little with investigators or the public, declining to let investigators question their child when he was first detained.

On Wednesday, the Crumbleys made a virtual appearance at the arraignment for their son, who faces 24 charges: one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to commit murder and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. They appeared side-by-side briefly, before turning off their cameras for the remainder of the hearing.

When announcing the charges against the high school sophomore Wednesday, McDonald said gun owners have a responsibility to secure their weapons.

“Those who do not do that should be and will be held accountable,” she said. “Kids deserve better, parents deserve better, teachers deserve better — we have to do better.”

McDonald and Bouchard, speaking at a news conference Thursday, reiterated their commitment to strict enforcement of gun laws.

“Responsible gun owners have a right to possess a gun but with it comes responsibility,” McDonald said, “and making it accessible and not securing it and allowing it in the hands of somebody that show signs that they may hurt somebody is not okay.”

He said he was going to watch cartoons. Instead, he opened his dad’s gun safe.

In Michigan, gun owners are not required to lock up their weapons or keep them away from children, according to Giffords Law Center. Even in the 30 states that have passed some form of a child access protection law, researchers say, the laws are often not enforced and the penalties are weak.

Charging parents of juvenile shooters is uncommon, with just four reported instances in which the adult owners of the weapons were criminally punished because they failed to lock firearms fired by a child, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. That’s despite the fact that if children as young as 6 did not have access to guns, well more than half of the country’s school shootings since 1999 would never have happened, The Post found.

“If you look at school shootings, the overwhelming majority are committed by students, and the overwhelming majority of those students have guns that they brought from their homes or a relative’s home,” said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy.

The four known prosecutions of parents did not stem from charges related to negligent-storage laws. The harshest penalty among those cases was a sentence of more than two years in prison for a man charged with involuntary manslaughter after a 6-year-old boy found his gun in a shoebox and killed a classmate.

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