Michigan school shooter parents charged with involuntary manslaughter

December 3, 2021
Community gathers to pray for peace in wake of Oxford school shooting
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DETROIT — Hours after a prosecutor filed involuntary manslaughter charges against the parents of the suspect in the Oxford High School shooting, authorities said multiple agencies were searching for the couple.

Jennifer and James Crumbley were each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after the prosecutor said they bought the firearm for their son as a Christmas gift. Their 15-year-old son, Ethan, is accused of fatally shooting four students and injuring seven others at Oxford High School on Tuesday.

The gun had been stored in an unlocked drawer in their house, and Crumbley’s parents did not ask where it was when they were called to the school the day of the shooting for a disturbing drawing their son made of a firearm, said Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald at a news conference Friday.

The parents were expected to be arraigned by video Friday, but a sheriff’s lieutenant said they were not in custody, news outlets reported. The couple stopped communication with their lawyer, according to a release from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.

“The action of fleeing and ignoring their attorney certainly adds weight to the charges,” said Sheriff Michael Bouchard. “They cannot run from their part in this tragedy.”

Ethan Crumbley had posted about the firearm online and researched ammunition while at school, McDonald said the investigation revealed. He was also allowed to return to class on the day of the shooting after the meeting with his parents, she said.  

“The facts of this case are so egregious,” McDonald said.

Charges for parents of shooter rare, experts say:Michigan school shooting is ‘so egregious,’ the suspect’s parents are charged.

Michigan school shooting suspect faces life in prison: What murder, terrorism charges mean

Crumbley was charged Wednesday as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes in what investigators described as a methodical and deliberate massacre.

When asked whether her office was looking into charges for any school officials, McDonald said the investigation was ongoing.

“While the shooter was the one who entered the high school and pulled the trigger, there are other individuals who contributed to the events on Nov. 30, and it’s my intention to hold them accountable as well,” she said. 

Here’s what we know Friday:

Prosecutor: Gun was ‘Christmas present’

At a news conference Friday, McDonald laid out how the suspect obtained the firearm and other warning signs in the days leading up to the shooting.

McDonald said the suspect was present when his dad purchased the 9mm Sig Sauer SP 2022 on Nov. 26. The same day, the suspect posted photos of the weapon online, calling it his “new beauty.” His mom said in a post the following day, “Mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present,” McDonald said.

“Clearly based on the statements of the shooter (and) the statements of mom, that was his gun,” McDonald said.

Prosecutor: School officials knew shooting suspect searched online for ammo, made drawings

Suspect’s drawing prompted worries on day of shooting

The 15-year-old suspect was also caught looking up ammunition online while at school before the shooting. McDonald said school officials contacted his mother about the online search, leaving a voicemail and email, but received no response. Crumbley’s mother instead texted him the same day, “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught,” McDonald said.

Hours before the shooting, Crumbley was found with a disturbing drawing that included a drawing of a firearm and someone who appeared to be bleeding, McDonald said.

A teacher took a photo of the drawing, and Crumbley’s parents were immediately contacted. When the drawing was brought to a school counselor with Crumbley and his parents present, Crumbley had altered it, McDonald said.

A counselor told the parents their son needed to get counseling, but Crumbley was able to return to class. His parents did not ask him about the firearm at that time nor did they search his backpack, McDonald said.

“Of course, he shouldn’t have gone back to that classroom,” McDonald added.

After reports of the shooting at the school, Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, “Ethan don’t do it,” McDonald said. James Crumbley drove home to search for the firearm and called 911 to report it missing, saying he believed his son was the shooter, McDonald said.

“I’m angry as a mother. I’m angry as the prosecutor. I’m angry as a person that lives in this county. I’m angry. There were a lot of things that could have been so simple to prevent,” McDonald said.

Slew of copycat threats across metro Detroit trouble schools, parents

Copycat threats circulated on social media and districts canceled classes Thursday out of caution for students’ safety. 

A 17-year-old student in Southfield, about 30 miles from Oxford High School, was arrested Thursday with a semi-automatic pistol. A bomb threat was also made at South Lake High School, about 45 miles from Oxford, and prompted a police investigation.

“If you’re making threats, we’re going to find you,” Bouchard said during a news conference Thursday that was specifically called to address the estimated hundreds of copycat threats reported. “It is ridiculous you’re inflaming the fears and passion of parents, teachers, and the community in the midst of a real tragedy.”

The FBI and Secret Service are also investigating threats. 

People who make false threats could face charges for false threat of terrorism, which is a 20-year felony, and misdemeanor malicious use of a telephone, McDonald said.

Meanwhile, parents are walking a fine line of ensuring their children’s security without affecting their kids’ mental and emotional health.

“I felt like I was going to throw up,” said Jill Dillon, 51, recalling dropping off her 14-year-old son to school Wednesday morning. “It was nauseating, thinking that I’m supposed to be taking him someplace safe, and is he really going to be safe?”

David Roden, a 14-year-old freshman at Northville High School, which stayed open Thursday, said the confusion of what’s real and what’s not was the scariest part.

“Everyone was on edge. It’s just kind of weird, being close to the situation,” he said.

— Miriam Marini, Detroit Free Press

Fake Instagram accounts multiply

Fake social media accounts claiming to be the 15-year-old charged in the Oxford High School shooting began popping up even before his name was released by law enforcement, and some made threats about additional shootings and plans for revenge. 

While direct threats may lead to criminal charges, the spread of false information via deceiving accounts is a common problem in the wake of mass shootings, often is not illegal and sometimes does not violate social media platforms’ terms of service. 

“Unfortunately, poor taste is not against the law,” said Lt. Mike Shaw of the Michigan State Police.

It is unlikely any social media accounts that chronicled Crumbley’s alleged criminal activity remain active on these platforms, said Cliff Lampe, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. 

In active threat situations, the social media accounts of alleged perpetrators are taken down through an opaque process, Lampe said. Platforms are alerted either by their own algorithms or by law enforcement.

The tendency of social media platforms to make some user accounts “disappear in the night” can help feed the creation of these fake accounts, Lampe said. However, the common practice of setting up “sock puppets” online would happen regardless, he said.

“Sock puppet accounts and spoof accounts have been part of internet culture for almost as long as the internet has been around,” Lampe said. Read more here. 

— Ashley Nerbovig, Detroit Free Press

Contributing: Elisha Anderson, Detroit Free Press; The Associated Press

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