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, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said at a press conference Friday.
"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."
At the time, McDonald declined to say whether the parents were in custody. Hours later, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard told CNN that the couple was missing.
His detectives and federal law enforcement agency partners were "actively looking for [the couple] and have every expectation we’ll have them in custody soon," he said in a statement.
Bouchard said that after warrants for their arrest were issued, the couple's attorney told detectives that they had stopped returning calls and texts.
"The action of fleeing and ignoring their attorney certainly adds weight to the charges," Bouchard said.
Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman, the couple's attorneys, denied that they were fleeing from law enforcement, telling BuzzFeed News via text that the Crumbleys had left Oxford on Tuesday night "for their own safety."
"They are returning to the area to be arraigned," they said.
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.
"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," McDonald said Friday. "They failed to uphold that responsibility."
The prosecutor laid out the parents' alleged role that led to the shooting at Oxford High School on Tuesday, 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 his parents were on school grounds on 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.
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.
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