Authorities on Friday were searching for the parents of the Michigan teenager accused of murdering four students at his high school, hours after the couple was charged with involuntary manslaughter for buying their son the weapon as a Christmas gift and ignoring warning signs as late as the day of the shooting.
A fugitive warrant has been issued for James and Jennifer Crumbley, who had been scheduled for arraignment on four counts of manslaughter each later on Friday, three days after authorities say their 15-year-old son, Ethan, carried out the deadliest U.S. school shooting of 2021.
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard told CNN police were searching for the Crumbleys after the couple’s attorney told his office that they have stopped responding to messages.
“If they think they’re going to get away, they’re not,” Bouchard said, adding that a “host” of detectives, as well as the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, were looking for them.
Four days before the shooting, Ethan accompanied his father to a local gun shop, where James Crumbley bought a semi-automatic handgun, prosecutors said.
Later that day, Ethan posted photos of the gun on social media, writing, “Just got my new beauty today” and adding a heart emoji. His mother posted the next day that the two of them were “testing out his new Christmas present,” McDonald said.
Michigan law prohibits those under 18 years of age from buying or possessing firearms, except in limited circumstances such as hunting with a license and a supervising adult.
“These charges are intended to hold the individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable and also send a message: that gun owners have a responsibility,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald told a news conference on Friday.
Prosecutors described several chilling warning signs in the days leading up to the shooting at Oxford High School, about 40 miles north of Detroit. On one day, a teacher saw Ethan Crumbley searching for ammunition on his phone during class and alerted school officials, who left messages for his mother that went unreturned.
In a text message to her son, prosecutors said, Jennifer Crumbley wrote, “LOL, I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”
The morning of the shooting, a teacher discovered a drawing that Ethan Crumbley had made depicting a handgun, a bullet, and a bleeding figure. The words “Blood everywhere” and “The thoughts won’t stop – help me” were also written on the sheet, among other messages, according to McDonald.
James and Jennifer Crumbley were summoned to the school, where they were instructed to get Ethan into mental health counseling within 48 hours, McDonald said. They “resisted” the idea of taking their son home from school and did not search his backpack or ask him about the gun, she said.
“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, and I think it’s criminal,” she said.
‘DON’T DO IT’
Ethan Crumbley was returned to his classroom and later walked out of a bathroom with the gun, killing four students and injuring seven other people, authorities said.
When news of an active shooter at the school broke shortly after 1 p.m. EST, Jennifer Crumbley sent Ethan a text message, urging him, “Don’t do it,” according to prosecutors.
James Crumbley, meanwhile, drove straight home to check whether the gun was there before calling police to report that it was missing and that his son might be the shooter, McDonald said. The gun had been stored in an unlocked drawer in the parents’ bedroom.
Parents are rarely charged in connection with children’s school shootings. Unlike some states, Michigan does not legally require gun owners to keep their firearms secured from children.
Eric Ruben, a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law in Dallas, said it would be easier for prosecutors to prevail if they could prove that Crumbley‘s parents had taken some direct action that led to the deaths – for example, buying the gun. If they merely failed to act, he said, prosecutors would have to show the parents had some legal duty to the victims.
Asked whether school officials should have done more, McDonald said the investigation was ongoing.
“He should not have been allowed to go back to that class, and I believe that is a universal position,” she said.
The attack is the latest in a decades-long string of mass shootings at U.S. schools.
Ethan Crumbley has been charged as an adult, even though he is under 18. Under Michigan law, prosecutors have the discretion to charge juveniles as adults when they commit certain violent crimes.
Authorities have previously said the shooting was premeditated, citing video recordings and a journal they recovered in which he described his intention to shoot students.
Copyright 2021 Thomson/Reuters