The Michigan School Shooting Suspect's Parents Have Been Charged With Involuntary Manslaughter

"These charges are intended to hold the individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable, and also send the message that gun owners have a responsibility," the county prosecutor said.

People embrace in a snowy parking lot outside Oxford High School
Scott Olson / Getty Images

A prosecutor has filed involuntary manslaughter charges against the parents of Ethan Crumbley, the Michigan school shooting suspect who allegedly killed four fellow students and wounded seven others with a gun his dad bought days before.

James and Jennifer Crumbley each face four counts of involuntary manslaughter. They pleaded not guilty to all charges at their arraignment Saturday, and a judge set a $500,000 bond each for the couple.

The couple was arrested early Saturday in Detroit, after officials, including the FBI and US Marshals Service, launched an extensive search for their whereabouts.

Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe said a business owner saw Jennifer Crumbley near a car in a parking lot. She "fled on foot" after the business owner called 911, and after a search involving Detroit police and K-9 units, the couple was found and arrested.

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said at a press conference Saturday that the couple was found in an art studio in a warehouse building.

They were booked into the Oakland County Jail shortly before 3 a.m., records show. All three family members are being held in the same facility but are individually isolated from each other, Bouchard said. He couldn’t clarify whether or not Ethan Crumbley, the shooting suspect, knew that his parents had been arrested.

Bouchard said the location where the Crumbleys were discovered “suggests they weren’t planning on surrendering.”

“If there’s no culpability, why would you go be in a warehouse in Detroit?” he said. “We believe they were assisted in that location, to get there and get in. We're gathering information and will present that to our prosecutor for potential charges for either aiding and abetting, or obstruction of justice."

Bouchard first told CNN that the couple was missing Friday after warrants of their arrest were issued, and detectives were told that the couple had stopped returning their attorney's calls and texts.

Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman, their attorneys, denied that they were fleeing from authorities, telling BuzzFeed News on Friday that the Crumbleys had left Oxford on Tuesday night "for their own safety."

"They are returning to the area to be arraigned," they said. "They are not fleeing from law enforcement despite recent comments in media reports."

Lehman, however, ignored questions asking when they had last been in contact with their clients, or when the couple planned to contact law enforcement or prosecutors to be arraigned.

They missed their 4 p.m. arraignment on Friday, and the US Marshals later released wanted posters of the couple and announced a $10,000 reward for information that would lead to their arrest.

During a press conference earlier on Friday, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said the extraordinary step of filing charges against the suspected shooter's parents was taken to hold responsible those who had "contributed" to the incident.

"These charges are intended to hold the individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable, and also send the message that gun owners have a responsibility," she said. "They failed to uphold that responsibility."

Four students — Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana, Madisyn Baldwin, and Justin Shilling — were killed in the shooting at Oxford High School on Tuesday. Seven others were injured, including a teacher.

It is rare for parents of a mass shooting suspect to be charged in a case. Each involuntary manslaughter count carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.

At the press conference Friday, the prosecutor laid out the parents' alleged role that led to the shooting, beginning with the 15-year-old suspect accompanying his dad to buy a SIG Sauer 9mm on Friday, Nov. 26. The day after, his mother posted on social media, "Mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present," McDonald said.

Prior to the day of the shooting, a teacher at Oxford High saw the suspect looking up ammunition on his phone during class and reported it to school officials, McDonald said. A call from the school to his mother went to voicemail, and officials indicated that they followed up with an email, but neither parent responded.

However, investigators discovered that the mother had texted the suspect about being contacted by the school that day, writing, "lol I'm not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught."

On the morning of the shooting, another teacher found a note on the suspect's desk that had a drawing of a handgun, a bullet, and a bleeding person with what appeared to be two gunshot wounds, McDonald said.

The words "The thoughts won't stop help me" and "Blood everywhere" were also on the note. At the bottom, there was a drawing of a laughing emoji, as well as the quotes that said, "My life is useless" and "The world is dead."

The teacher who found the note was so alarmed that she took a photo of it on her phone. The Crumbleys were again summoned to the school. A school counselor called the suspect in with his backpack — but by that time, he had already altered the drawings and scratched some parts out, McDonald said.

Investigators believe the gun that was used in the shooting — the same gun bought on Friday — was in the suspect's backpack during the meeting.

The suspect's parents were shown the note and advised to get their son into counseling within 48 hours.

"Both James and Jennifer Crumbley failed to ask their son if he 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.

They also "resisted the idea ... of their son leaving the school at that time," she said, adding that the parents left school grounds by themselves while the 15-year-old went back to class.

After news outlets reported a shooting at Oxford High, which authorities said happened shortly before 1 p.m., the mother texted her son at 1:22 p.m., saying, "Ethan, don't do it."

Fifteen minutes later, the father called 911 to report that his gun was missing and that his son may have been the school shooter. McDonald said that once the father heard about the shooting at the school, he drove home to look for his gun.

Tim Throne, the school district superintendent, acknowledged in a video Thursday that the suspect "did have contact" with the front office and that his parents were on school grounds the day of the shooting. But, he said, "No discipline was warranted. There are no discipline records at the high school."

Throne did not immediately respond to questions about why the suspect's behavior did not warrant disciplinary measures.

The Crumbleys' attorneys said Saturday morning that they "intend to fight this case in the courtroom and not in the court of public opinion."

"The charges in this case are intended to make an example and send a message," they said, adding that the prosecution "cherry- picked and slanted specific facts to further their narrative to do that."

Scott Olson / Getty Images

A memorial outside of Oxford High School on Dec. 3, 2021 in Oxford, Michigan.

McDonald was critical of Michigan's lax gun laws in her Friday press conference, calling them "woefully inadequate." She also said the Crumbleys failed to bear the responsibility of owning a gun.

"I'm not here to say that people shouldn't own guns. I know a lot of people who own guns — but they do so responsibly," McDonald said. "And it's your responsibility, it's your duty to make sure that you don't give access to this deadly weapon to somebody that you have reason to believe is going to harm someone."

McDonald brought charges against the parents because "the facts of the case are so egregious," she said, pointing to the parents' knowledge of the suspect's behavior before the shooting.

"The notion that a parent could read those words [on the note] and also know that their son had access to a deadly weapon that they gave him is unconscionable," McDonald said. "And I think it's criminal."

The 15-year-old was charged Wednesday with one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in commitment of a felony. He will be tried as an adult and could be sentenced to life in prison.

He has pleaded not guilty.

All three Crumbley family members are on suicide watch “out of an abundance of caution,” although Bouchard said Saturday there weren’t any specific indicators that any of them were suicidal.

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