DETROIT — Hours after a prosecutor filed involuntary manslaughter charges against the parents of the suspect in the Oxford High School shooting, authorities claimed they appeared to be fleeing from authorities.
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.
During a hearing that started around noon, a lieutenant with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said the parents were not in custody. The Oakland County Fugitive Team, along with several agencies, were searching for the couple as of Friday evening.
“The action of fleeing and ignoring their attorney certainly adds weight to the charges,” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said in a release Friday. “They cannot run from their part in this tragedy.”
The sheriff’s office and the U.S. Marshals said they are working together in the search for the Crumbleys to “bring these individuals to justice.”
But the family’s lawyers said the couple is not fleeing from authorities and are returning to the area after having left town briefly amid the commotion surrounding tragedy.
“The Crumbleys left town on the night of the tragic shooting for their own safety. They are returning to the area to be arraigned,” their lawyers Smith and Mariell Lehman said.
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.
“At this time, the FBI is not assisting with the search for Ethan Crumbley’s parents. However, we are prepared to provide any assistance requested by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office,” said Mara Schneider, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Detroit field office.
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.
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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:
Sheriff’s office blasts prosecutor over search for parents
Authorities across several agencies were still searching for the alleged shooter’s parents as of Friday evening, and the Oakland County undersheriff blamed the county prosecutor for their disappearance.
“In my entire 44-year career, I have never, ever seen a prosecutor announce charges in a major case without the suspect being in custody first,” Oakland Undersheriff Mike McCabe told the Detroit Free Press.
“We don’t let people turn themselves in,” he said. “When a warrant is authorized by a judge, we go and get them.”
David Williams, the chief assistant prosecutor, said nobody is to blame but the Crumbleys, when told of the criticism from McCabe.
“The Crumbleys are at large because they are continuously irresponsible,” Williams said. “They promised to turn themselves in and did not. We have been in constant communication with sheriff’s office investigators, and we are confident that the Crumbleys will be apprehended.”
-Paul Egan, The Detroit Free Press
At a news conference Friday, McDonald laid out how Ethan Crumbley got the weapon other warning signs in the days leading up to the shooting.
McDonald said Ethan Crumbley was there when his father bought the 9mm Sig Sauer SP 2022 on Nov. 26. The same day, the younger Crumbley 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.
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 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.
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 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, Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press; The Associated Press