15-year-old Ethan Crumbley killed four classmates this week. His parents have been charged for not doing enough to stop the massacre.
Three days after 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley used his father’s recently purchased handgun to kill four of his fellow students at his Detroit-area high school, his parents have both been charged for their roles in the country’s latest mass school shooting.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday afternoon, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald announced that James and Jennifer Crumbley each face four separate counts of involuntary manslaughter for their son’s killing spree at Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, about 40 miles north of Detroit. McDonald explained that the family of outspoken gun enthusiasts have “great responsibility” that comes with their Second Amendment rights.
Among the details shared by McDonald during her brief remarks was the fact that just one day before her son brought his new semi-automatic pistol — purchased less than a week earlier by his father — to school, Jennifer Crumbley had been notified by Oxford High officials that Ethan had been caught browsing ammunition sites online. McDonald said school officials never received a response from Crumbley, though she did texted her son the same day: “Lol I'm not mad. You have to learn not to get caught.” Michigan does not currently have laws requiring guns to be locked away and stored securely within a home.
McDonald also said that the Crumbleys had been brought to the school the morning of the shooting to discuss Ethan’s behavior, including allegations from a teacher who claimed to have seen Ethan draw a gun, and write, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” and “blood everywhere” under the sketch. During that meeting, neither parent apparently notified school officials that Ethan had immediate access to a gun, despite McDonald’s assertion that “they bought that gun for him.” McDonald also said that upon hearing news reports of the shooting that afternoon, James Crumbley returned to his home to check if the gun was missing, while Jennifer Crumbley reportedly texted her son “don’t do it” as the shooting wound down. Ethan Crumbley was arrested shortly thereafter, and now stands charged with both terrorism and first-degree murder.
During her press conference, McDonald stressed that the elder Crumbleys shared a measure of culpability for their son’s alleged crimes, as they evidently not only supplied the firearm used, but didn’t act to prevent the shooting. Noting James’s decision to check at home for the gun before notifying authorities, McDonald told reporters that upon hearing about the shooting, “Dad didn’t drive to the school or call his child like other parents did,” suggesting that James had already harbored suspicions of his son’s guilt.
During a radio interview earlier this week, McDonald foreshadowed Friday’s charges, saying that “the only people who knew that there was a threat and access to a gun did not work at that school.”
Speaking with the Detroit Free Press, McDonald noted the rarity of parents being charged for their children’s firearms crimes — particularly in as permissive a state as Michigan — but noted a 2000 case in which a man pleaded guilty after gun was used by his first-grader nephew to kill a classmate.
More broadly, by bringing charges against Crumbley’s parents, McDonald now walks a tightrope between holding adults criminally responsible for the illegal actions of their children, and risking the introduction of a precedent where parents can be criminally charged for behavior they, themselves, had no role in.
But, as McDonald told the Detroit Free Press, “If mom and dad had acted differently, those kids would still be alive.”
Update 3:44 p.m. ET: Just hours after McDonald announced the charges against James and Jennifer Crumbley, the pair reportedly cut off contact with their attorney and are now considered fugitives on the run from law enforcement officials, including the U.S. Marshals and FBI investigators.
“The action of fleeing and ignoring their attorney certainly adds weight to the charges,” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said in a statement announcing the Crumbleys’ flight. He added that “they cannot run from their part in this tragedy.”
The pair’s attorney, however, claims the Crumbleys were not “fleeing from law enforcement” and left town the night before the charges were announced out of concern for their safety. According to their lawyer, the Crumbleys will be “returning to the area to be arraigned,” although no timeline was offered for their arrival.