Parents of teenager accused over school shooting deny involuntary manslaughter

4 December 2021, 16:04

Parents of shooting suspect arraigned
School Shooting Michigan. Picture: PA

James and Jennifer Crumbley were arrested after their son Ethan, 15, was accused of killing four fellow students at a high school.

The parents of a teenager charged with killing four students at a Michigan high school have pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

A judge imposed a combined one million dollar (£754,000) bond for James and Jennifer Crumbley, hours after police said they had been caught hiding in a commercial building in Detroit.

The pair entered not guilty pleas to each of the four involuntary manslaughter counts against them during a hearing held on Zoom.

Judge Julie Nicholson assigned a bond of 500,000 dollars (£377,000) apiece to each of the parents and placed other requirements on them such as GPS monitoring, agreeing with prosecutors that they posed a flight risk.

A prosecutor had filed charges against the parents on Friday, accusing them of failing to intervene on the day of the shooting in Oxford High School in Michigan despite being confronted with a drawing and a chilling message – “blood everywhere” – found at their son Ethan Crumbley’s school desk.

The parents committed “egregious” acts, from buying a gun on Black Friday and making it available to 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, to resisting his removal from school when they were summoned a few hours before the shooting, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said.

Jennifer and James Crumbley
Jennifer and James Crumbley (Oakland County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

Authorities had been looking for the couple since Friday afternoon, with US marshals announcing a reward of up to 10,000 dollars (£7,500) each for information leading to their arrests.

The Crumbleys’ attorney, Shannon Smith, said the pair had left town earlier in the week “for their own safety” and would be returning to Oxford to face charges. But Detroit police chief James E White seemed to dismiss the possibility that was their intention.

“This isn’t indicative of turning yourself in – hiding in a warehouse,” Mr White said.

Mr White said the couple “were aided in getting into the building”, and that a person who helped them may also face charges.

On Friday, Ms McDonald offered the most precise account so far of the events that led to the shooting at Oxford High School, roughly 30 miles north of Detroit.

Ethan Crumbley, 15, emerged from a toilet with a gun, shooting students in the hallway, investigators said. He has been charged as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes.

Ethan Crumbley
Ethan Crumbley is charged as an adult with murder and terrorism for a shooting that killed four fellow students at Oxford High School (Sheriff’s office via AP)

Under Michigan law, the involuntary manslaughter charge filed against the parents can be pursued if authorities believe someone contributed to a situation where there was a high chance of harm or death.

Parents in the US are rarely charged in school shootings involving their children, even as most minors get guns from a parent or relative’s house, according to experts.

School officials became concerned about the younger Crumbley on Monday, a day before the shooting, when a teacher saw him searching for ammunition on his phone, Ms McDonald said.

Jennifer Crumbley was contacted and subsequently told her son in a text message: “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught,” according to the prosecutor.

On Tuesday, a teacher found a note on Ethan’s desk and took a photo. It was a drawing of a gun pointing at the words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” Ms McDonald said.

Karen McDonald
Oakland County Prosecuting Attorney Karen McDonald (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP)

There also was a drawing of a bullet, she said, with words above it: “Blood everywhere.”

The school quickly had a meeting with Ethan and his parents, who were told to get him into counselling within 48 hours, Ms McDonald said.

The Crumbleys failed to ask their son about the gun or check his backpack and “resisted the idea of their son leaving the school at that time,” Ms McDonald said.

Instead, the teenager returned to class and the shooting subsequently occurred.

“The notion that a parent could read those words and also know that their son had access to a deadly weapon that they gave him is unconscionable – it’s criminal,” the prosecutor said.

Jennifer Crumbley texted her son after the shooting, saying: “Ethan, don’t do it,” Ms McDonald said.

James Crumbley called police to say that a gun was missing from their home and that Ethan might be the shooter. The gun had been kept in an unlocked drawer in the parents’ bedroom, Ms McDonald said.

A vigil for the victims
A candlelit vigil is held for the victims (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP)

Ethan accompanied his father for the gun purchase on November 26 and posted photos of the firearm on social media, saying: “Just got my new beauty today,” Ms McDonald said.

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, Jennifer Crumbley wrote on social media that it is a “mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present,” the prosecutor said.

Asked at a news conference if the father could be charged for purchasing the gun for the son, Ms McDonald said that would be the decision of federal authorities.

In a video message to the community on Thursday, the head of Oxford Community Schools said the high school looks like a “war zone” and will not be ready for weeks.

Superintendent Tim Throne repeatedly complimented students and staff for how they responded to the violence.

By Press Association

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