Have the parents of a student school shooter ever been charged with homicide? Jennifer and James Crumbly may be the first, and Michigan prosecutors might want to set a very harsh example of the parents of the teen who killed four classmates. The charges allege that the couple knew of Ethan Crumbley’s risk to the community and yet did nothing to prevent his access to firearms.
Unlike their son Ethan, the Crumbleys will not get charged with murder but rather involuntary manslaughter. But are these charges justified and sustainable, or an extrastatutory attempt at a pour encourager les autres example? Don’t leap to a conclusion yet:
A prosecutor in Michigan filed involuntary manslaughter charges Friday against the parents of a boy who is accused of killing four students at Oxford High School, after saying earlier that their actions went “far beyond negligence,” her office said.
Jennifer and James Crumbley were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
“The parents were the only individuals in the position to know the access to weapons,” Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said Thursday. The gun “seems to have been just freely available to that individual.”
That’s a notably passive way to describe an overt act of negligence, at least one that meets a beyond-reasonable-doubt bar on criminal acts. The charges do corroborate earlier information that the father had bought the Sig Sauer just days before the school shooting, but news reports didn’t connect the dots further than that:
Law enforcement authorities say that Mr. Crumbley legally bought the 9-millimeter Sig Sauer handgun four days before his son used it to carry out the country’s deadliest school shooting this year. Hours before the attack, he and his wife met with school officials who were concerned about their son’s behavior.
It is unclear how their son, Ethan, obtained the handgun and brought it to school. But law enforcement authorities say he walked out of a school bathroom on Tuesday afternoon armed with the semiautomatic pistol and three 15-round magazines.
It’s not a crime for the son to be present at the time of purchase, as prosecutors noted today in their presser, but they’re alleging he was there for a reason:
“James Crumbley purchased a Sig Sauer 9mm model SP 2022 from Acme Shooting Goods in Oxford, Michigan, on Nov. 26th, 2021. A store employee confirms that Ethan Crumbley was present with James at the time of the purchase,” McDonald announced.
In further comments this afternoon, it sounds as though prosecutors are making a complex case involving a series of interlocking and negligent acts. McDonald implies that James Crumbley bought the pistol as a straw purchase for his son, but is it illegal for a parent to purchase a firearm for a minor son or daughter to use? Not to my knowledge, but there is more to this case than that, and the meeting McDonald describes does sound like a pretty big red flag, too:
Prosecutor alleges parents of Oxford High School shooting suspect left gun unlocked and failed to take action on reports of disturbing behavior at school. The mother allegedly wrote in a text to him after one report: "lol I'm not mad at you, you have to learn not to get caught" pic.twitter.com/BiR9VTu1U7
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 3, 2021
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen D. McDonald said that her office is bringing charges against the parents of Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old accused of shooting several people at Oxford High School, to hold people accountable and prevent other events from happening in the future.
While the shooter was the one who entered the school and pulled the trigger, “there are other individuals who contributed to this,” McDonald said at a news conference on Friday.
“It’s my intention to hold them accountable,” she said.
The most interesting and intriguing aspect of Brown’s statement is the revelation of the mother’s text to Ethan: “Don’t do it.” That certainly sounds as though the mother had some inclination that Ethan was going to do something bad. If she didn’t warn the school at that point, a jury may well be inclined to see that as the kind of negligence that would support the charges.
McDonald also tried to distance herself from the politics around gun ownership:
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald: "I am not here to say that people shouldn't own guns…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." pic.twitter.com/EHEVwOCmli
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 3, 2021
It’s going to be a tough case to make, the New York Times adds in its coverage. Michigan doesn’t require firearms to remain secured inside a house, which would contradict the “duty” argument McDonald makes here:
Although many underage school shooters arm themselves with guns from home, the adults responsible for the weapons are rarely charged, experts say.
Many states, including Michigan, do not have laws requiring guns to be locked away, and experts say prosecuting a gunman’s family members in the raw aftermath of a mass shooting can raise divisive questions pitting Second Amendment rights against gun safety.
At the moment, we don’t have enough of the evidence or testimony to see whether McDonald can sustain these charges at trial. At least from her presentation, there seems to be at least some reasonable suspicion of criminal negligence in this case. Until we hear from the defense and see the totality of circumstances, we should reserve judgment, but it will be difficult for a jury to not assign some responsibility to the parents for the horrific acts committed by their 15-year-old.
Update: To quote the film Apollo 13 … “Did we miss a step here?”
“So the Crumbleys are missing now?”
— Acyn (@Acyn) December 3, 2021
The Oakland County Fugitive Apprehension Team is searching Friday for the parents of an Oxford High teenager charged in Tuesday’s school shooting after the couple stopped responding to their attorney, according to authorities. …
“Their attorney had assured us that if a decision was made to charge them, she would produce them for arrest,” Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe said Friday.
That agreement with attorney Shannon Smith was sometime in the morning, McCabe said around 2 p.m. Friday.
“Our last conversation with the attorney was that she had been trying to reach them by phone and text, and they were not responding,” he said.
Shouldn’t they have arrested the couple before holding a press conference to announce the charges? Treating the presser as if it were more important than securing the indicted doesn’t exactly leave a great impression of the prosecutors’ priorities in this case.