The parents of Michigan school shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley have each been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter connected to the horrific Nov. 30 attack that left four teens dead and seven people injured , including a teacher.
The decision to pursue criminal charges against James and Jennifer Crumbley —who posted an open letter online in 2016 thanking President-Elect Donald Trump for protecting "my right to bear arms"—is a rarity in the U.S. legal system, which seldom holds parents of school shooters accountable for their child's actions.
"Any individual that had the opportunity to stop this tragedy should have done so. The question is what did they know, and when did they know it," Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said Friday.
McDonald said that on Nov. 21, a teacher at Oxford High observed Ethan searching for ammunition on his cell phone during class, and reported it to school officials. Administrators left a voicemail for Jennifer Crumbley and followed up with an email, but received no response. Jennifer then texted Ethan, saying, "lol I'm not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught," McDonald said.
On the morning of the shooting, Ethan's teacher was "alarmed" by a drawing he made of a handgun, with the text: "The thoughts won't stop. Help me." He had also had drawn a bullet with the words: "Blood everywhere."
When alerts went out about a possible active shooter at Oxford High School, Jennifer texted her son, "Ethan, don't do it," McDonald said.
"Upon hearing there was an active shooter that day, James Crumbley went straight to his home to look for his gun," she explained.
About 15 minutes later, Crumbley called 911 to report that his gun was missing from his house and "that his son could be the shooter," McDonald said.
McDonald described the facts in the case as "egregious," and stressed that the charges against the Crumbleys were filed, in part, to "send a message that gun owners have a responsibility."
Involuntary manslaughter was "the strongest possible charge that we could prove and that there's probable cause to charge," said McDonald.
"Four kids were murdered and seven more injured," she said. "So yes, I think we should all be very angry and we should take a very hard look at what is in place in terms of criminal responsible and what gun owners are required to do."
James Crumbley purchased the 9mm Sig Sauer handgun on Black Friday, four days before the shooting, and Ethan had flaunted it on his social media profiles, authorities said. It was stored in an unlocked drawer in the parents' bedroom, McDonald said Friday.
The high school sophomore allegedly opened fire on classmates and teachers at Oxford High School without warning earlier this week, and has been charged as an adult with one count of terrorism, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm.
One Oxford High mother, who did not wish to identify herself out of fear of retribution, told The Daily Beast that the Crumbleys "did not really engage with other parents at the high school."
"When we found out that Ethan was the shooter, some of us came together and couldn't even remember too much about his parents. Which is weird because this is such a tight-knit place—and they just weren't involved," the parent added.
Hours before bullets began flying in the halls of Oxford High, James and Jennifer Crumbley had been called in for a face-to-face conference with school administrators to discuss Ethan's "behavior in the classroom that they felt was concerning," Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said Wednesday without elaborating on the behavior.
At Crumbley's arraignment on Wednesday, Oakland County Sheriff's Lt. Tim Willis said police seized "two separate videos recovered from Ethan's cellphone made by him the night before the incident, wherein he talked about shooting and killing students the next day at Oxford High School."
Willis also told the judge that investigators discovered a journal in Ethan's backpack, "detailing his desire to shoot up the school, to include murdering students." An analysis of social media accounts indicated that Ethan had access to firearms and practiced with a Sig Sauer handgun identical to the one used in the shooting, Willis told District Court Judge Nancy Carniak.
Assistant prosecutor Marc Keast told Carniak that Crumbley entered a bathroom with a backpack on Tuesday afternoon then emerged with a semi-automatic handgun, firing at students in the hallway. The four kids killed were identified as 16-year-old Tate Myre, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin, and Justin Shilling, who was also 17.
The day after James Crumbley bought the weapon, a woman in Florida filed a complaint against him for thousands in unpaid child support, according to court records reviewed by The Daily Beast. Money has apparently been an issue in the Crumbley household for several years. Shortly after the 2016 election, Jennifer Crumbley posted a missive to Donald Trump in which she claimed she was skipping car insurance payments to hire a tutor for Ethan, blaming the "common core" curriculum mandated in schools. She seethed in the letter about schools where the "kids come from illegal immigrant parents" and "don't care about learning."
"As a female and a Realtor, thank you for allowing my right to bear arms," Jennifer Crumbley wrote. "Allowing me to be protected if I show a home to someone with bad intentions. Thank you for respecting that Amendment."
James Crumbley posted a link on Facebook to his wife's screed, commenting, "My wife can be spot on. Sometimes."
Charging the parents of a school shooter is highly unusual. One case involved the mom of an Indiana teen who in 2018 opened fire in his middle school didn't kill anyone, but fatally shot himself after being cornered by police. His mother pleaded guilty last year to child neglect charges and was sentenced to 2.5 years probation. In Texas, the parents of a 17-year-old student who in 2018 killed eight classmates and two substitute teachers with a shotgun and pistol that reportedly belonged to his father, continue to battle lawsuits by victims' relatives who allege the parents were aware of their son's "dangerous propensities" but still allowed him access to guns.
There are no laws in Michigan requiring gun owners to lock up their weapons and keep them away from children.
"We have to prevent kids from getting their hands on guns in the first place, and that starts with secure gun storage. It's every gun owner's responsibility to store their guns locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition," Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, told The Daily Beast.
"We've seen far too many times what can happen when they don't and there needs to be accountability—that includes both informing gun owners of their obligation and responsibility to securely store their guns, as well as passing and enforcing laws that hold gun owners accountable when they fail to do so."
At least 100 schools in Michigan were forced to cancel classes on Friday due to a deluge of copycat threats, and the small community of Oxford has been left reeling.
"If you weren't hit by a bullet, [it] doesn't mean you weren't terrorized that day and will have nightmares about it the rest of your life, whether you're a parent, a teacher, or a student," Bouchard said at a press conference prior to charges being filed against the Crumbleys.
"Going through that building in the wee hours of this morning, looking at disarray in the classrooms and the backpacks strewn across the floor, that had to have been an absolutely terrorizing moment in anyone's life," he added. "I don't care if you're an adult or child."
Ethan Crumbley has pleaded not guilty, and was transferred from a juvenile lockup to the Oakland County Jail, where authorities say he is under suicide watch. He is due back in court on Dec. 13.
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