DETROIT – James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of the teen charged in the Oxford High School shooting, pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges on Saturday morning, hours after police said they were found in a commercial building in Detroit and taken into custody.
A judge, citing her concern that the couple did not appear at an arraignment Friday, set bond at $500,000 each, substantially more than defense attorneys asked for. James Crumbley, 45, and Jennifer Crumbley, 43, appeared in court via video from the Oakland County Jail.
Jennifer Crumbley appeared to cry and at times struggled to respond to the judge’s questions. James Crumbley shook his head when a prosecutor said their son had full access to the gun used in the killings.
Each was charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said they bought the firearm for their son, Ethan Crumbley, 15, as a Christmas gift. He is accused of killing four students and injuring seven people at the suburban Detroit high school on Tuesday.
On Friday, the U.S. Marshals Service issued “Wanted” posters and offered a reward for information leading to the Crumbleys’ arrests. They were found and arrested early Saturday in Detroit, a little more than two hours after someone saw their vehicle and called police.
The Crumbleys’ attorneys said in Saturday’s court appearance that their clients were not fleeing and that the missed court appearance was a result of miscommunication.
“Our clients were absolutely going to turn themselves in,” said Shannon Smith, one of the couple’s attorneys. “It was just a matter of logistics.”
The investigation of the shootings and the search for the Crumbleys was led by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office. Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe said the vehicle was found around 11:30 p.m. Friday.
By about 1:45 a.m., the Crumbleys were under arrest. The couple were found hiding inside a commercial building and were “distressed,” Detroit Police Chief James White told reporters. They were unarmed, he said.
White said police believe someone had let the Crumbleys into the building. He said those who helped the couple could face criminal charges.
Judge Julie Nicholson of Rochester Hills District Court cited concerns about flight risk before setting bond.
“These charges are very, very serious, there’s no question about that,” Nicholson said. “The court does have some concern about the flight risk along with the public safety given the circumstances that occurred yesterday and fact the that defendants did have to be apprehended in order to appear for purposes of arraignment.”
The gun used in the shooting 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, McDonald said at a news conference Friday.
Ethan Crumbley had posted about the firearm online and researched ammunition while at school, McDonald said the investigation revealed. He was allowed to return to class on the day of the shooting after the meeting with his parents, she said.
Crumbley was charged Wednesday as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes in what investigators described as a methodical and deliberate massacre.
“The facts of this case are so egregious,” McDonald said.
Lawyers representing the Crumbley parents contested claims that the Crumbleys had left the gun unlocked. Smith said it was “absolutely not true” that their son has “free access” to the gun.
The couple’s attorneys, Smith and Mariell Lehman, released a statement before the arraignment, reading in part: “While it’s human nature to want to find someone to blame or something to point to or something that gives us answers, the charges in this case are intended to make an example and send a message. … We intend to fight this case in the courtroom and not in the court of public opinion. We know that in the end the entire story and truth will prevail.”
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
Here’s what we know:
The 15-year-old suspect was 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, 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 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 in a news conference Thursday that was specifically called to address the estimated hundreds of reported copycat threats. “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 also were investigating threats.
People who make threats could face charges of false threat of terrorism, 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.”
— Miriam Marini, Detroit Free Press
Fake social media accounts claiming to be the 15-year-old charged in the 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 actions 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 suspects 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 fake accounts, Lampe said. But 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: Darcie Moran, Tyler J. Davis, Phoebe Wall Howard, Elisha Anderson, Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press; Christine Fernando, USA TODAY; The Associated Press