Crumbleys apprehended at their hideout, but can they be convicted?

Crumbleys apprehended at their hideout, but can they be convicted?
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

As Ed pointed out yesterday, the case of the tragic shooting at Oxford High School in Oakland County, Michigan has taken several unexpected turns in a very short period of time. First, there was the prosecutor’s decision to charge Ethan Crumbley as an adult at the age of 15. Then came the even more unusual decision to charge his parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Somehow the prosecutors decided to announce the charges against the parents before placing them under arrest, leading to their flight from the law. Then, last night, the pair was located and arrested without incident following a brief manhunt. They turned up in Detroit, hiding out in the basement of an unspecified building.

The parents of the Michigan teen who allegedly shot up his school earlier this week were found early Saturday in the basement of a Detroit building following a manhunt, local reports said.

Jennifer and James Crumbley were arrested several hours after Oakland County prosecutors charged them each with involuntary manslaughter in connection with their son Ethan Crumbley’s deadly attack.

The couple’s SUV was found in the Motor City, some 50 miles from their Oxford home, just before 2 a.m., Fox 2 reported. Law-enforcement, including Detroit police and US Marshals, discovered the fugitives inside the building where their vehicle was parked, the report said.

The reason it didn’t take long for law enforcement to capture the Crumbleys was that they obviously didn’t have a very good escape plan. That’s understandable when you consider the state of shock they must have been in after learning what their son had done. But their faces, along with a description and license number for their vehicle, were plastered all over the news and a $10,000 reward had been offered for information leading to their arrests. They wound up parking their vehicle in front of some building in Detroit and going in to hide in the basement. The building’s owner recognized the unfamiliar vehicle from the news and called the police. (He’s probably in for a nice cash reward now.)

I do have at least some sympathy for the prosecutors in terms of getting sloppy in their efforts to bring the Crumbleys in. Why would anyone suspect that they were going to flee, particularly after telling the authorities that they planned to come down and surrender? Were they really planning to simply abandon the area entirely and leave their son to face trial alone? Their attorney claims they left the area because they feared for their safety, not because they were trying to evade the law. Again, I suspect it was a combination of panic and muddled thinking.

Ed already ran through some of the obvious questions about the charges being filed, but I wanted to touch on a couple of additional points here. It’s difficult to see the prosecution’s path forward in going after the parents. We’re seeing some cheers for these charges coming from the anti-Second Amendment lobby, including a hastily published op-ed from the parents of one of the victims of the Columbine shooting. But while blaming the parents may provide some emotional relief for the aggrieved, that doesn’t necessarily translate to actual justice.

The Oakland County prosecutor, Karen McDonald, seems to be throwing a Hail Mary in an attempt to bring down somebody in addition to the shooter. As Ed already discussed, James Crumbley legally purchased the handgun and passed a background check. It’s not illegal for a parent to allow their teenage child to use a firearm. (I received my first gun at the age of eleven. It was a Remington Arms .22 caliber, bolt-action rifle.) And Michigan law apparently does not require firearms to be secured inside of the home. There’s certainly a case to be made that they were negligent, particularly given their son’s troubling behavior and the red flags raised by the school. But making that add up to manslaughter is going to be a long row to hoe in a courtroom.

Assuming Ethan Crumbley is convicted as an adult on all charges (also assuming his attorney can’t get the case thrown back to the juvenile detention system), he’s going to be facing a very long sentence. The person who makes the decision to pull the trigger is always ultimately the one who is responsible, so that would be appropriate. If the boy is found to be suffering from some form of severe mental infirmity, perhaps that will be taken into consideration at sentencing. No matter what happens, the shooting itself was a terrible tragedy, but at least thus far, the system appears to be working in the aftermath with all involved parties in custody and a complete investigation underway. Our prayers go out to all who have been affected and the families of the victims.

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David Strom 8:41 PM on March 20, 2023