Parents of teen accused over school shooting plead not guilty to involuntary manslaughter

Judge imposes combined $1m bond on James and Jennifer Crumbley

James and Jennifer Crumbley face charges of involuntary manslaughter after their son Ethan Crumbley allegedly killed four school students. Photograph: Oakland County sheriff’s department/EPA

James and Jennifer Crumbley face charges of involuntary manslaughter after their son Ethan Crumbley allegedly killed four school students. Photograph: Oakland County sheriff’s department/EPA

 

The parents of a teenager charged with killing four students at a Michigan high school have pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

A judge imposed a combined $1 million (€880,000) bond for James and Jennifer Crumbley, hours after police said they had been caught hiding in a commercial building in Detroit.

The pair entered not guilty pleas to each of the four involuntary manslaughter counts against them during a hearing held on Zoom. Judge Julie Nicholson assigned a bond of $500,000 (about €442,000) apiece to each of the parents and placed other requirements on them such as GPS monitoring, agreeing with prosecutors that they posed a flight risk.

A prosecutor had filed charges against the parents on Friday, accusing them of failing to intervene on the day of the shooting in Michigan despite being confronted with a drawing and message – “blood everywhere” – found at son Ethan Crumbley’s school desk.

The parents committed “egregious” acts, from buying a gun on Black Friday and making it available to Ethan, to resisting his removal from school when they were summoned a few hours before the shooting, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said.

“I expect parents and everyone to have humanity and to step in and stop a potential tragedy,” she said. “The conclusion I draw is that there was absolute reason to believe this individual was dangerous and disturbed.”

Authorities began searching for James and Jennifer Crumbley after Oakland County prosecutors announced the charges on Friday.

Detroit police then said in the early hours of Saturday that they had taken the couple into custody. On Friday night, US marshals had announced a reward of up to $10,000 (€8,800) each for information leading to the Crumbleys’ arrest.

Four students were killed and others were wounded during the shooting incident at Oxford High School, about 48km north of Detroit, on Tuesday.

Investigators alleged Ethan Crumbley (15) emerged from a toilet with a gun, shooting students in the hallway. He is charged as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes.

Under Michigan law, the involuntary manslaughter charge filed against the parents can be pursued if authorities believe someone contributed to a situation where there was a high chance of harm or death.

Parents in the US are rarely charged in school shootings involving their children, even though most minors get guns from a parent or relative’s house, according to experts.

School’s concern

School officials became concerned about the teenager on Monday, a day before the shooting, when a teacher saw him searching for ammunition on his phone, Ms McDonald said.

Jennifer Crumbley was contacted and subsequently told her son in a text message: “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught,” according to the prosecutor.

On Tuesday, a teacher found a note on the teenager’s desk and took a photo. It was a drawing of a gun pointing at the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me”, Ms McDonald said.

There also was a drawing of a bullet, she said, with words above it: “Blood everywhere.”

Between the gun and the bullet was a person who appeared to have been shot twice and was bleeding.

Ethan also wrote “My life is useless” and “The world is dead”, according to the prosecutor.

The school quickly had a meeting with the teenager and his parents, who were told to get him into counselling within 48 hours, Ms McDonald said.

The Crumbleys failed to ask their son about the gun or check his backpack and “resisted the idea of their son leaving the school at that time”, she added. Instead, the teenager returned to class and the shooting subsequently occurred.

“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 – it’s criminal,” the prosecutor said.

Jennifer Crumbley texted her son after the shooting, saying, “Ethan, don’t do it”, Ms McDonald said.

James Crumbley called 911 to say a gun was missing from their home and his son might be the gunman. The weapon had been kept in an unlocked drawer in the parents’ bedroom, according to Ms McDonald.

The teenager accompanied his father for the gun purchase on November 26th and posted photos of the firearm on social media, saying, “Just got my new beauty today”, Ms McDonald said.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Jennifer Crumbley wrote on social media that it was a “mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present”, the prosecutor added. – Associated Press/Reuters