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.
Earlier Friday, a prosecutor described chilling moments the day of the shooting when a teacher found a drawing of a gun, a person bleeding and the words “help me” at the boy’s desk.
Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said the parents committed “egregious” acts, including buying a gun and making it available to their son, and failing to intervene when they were summoned to the school Tuesday and confronted with the drawing.
A teacher found a note on Ethan’s desk and took a photo. It was a drawing of a gun pointing at the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” McDonald said.
There also was a drawing of a bullet with words above it: “Blood everywhere.”
School officials told the parents to get their 15-year-old son into counselling, McDonald said.
He returned to class and later emerged from a bathroom with a gun, firing at students in the hallway, according to police.
Jennifer Crumbley texted her son after the shooting, saying, “Ethan, don’t do it,” McDonald said.
“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. “When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences.”
It wasn’t immediately known if the Crumbleys have lawyers who could comment on the involuntary manslaughter charges.
Under Michigan law, an involuntary manslaughter charge can be pursued if prosecutors believe someone contributed to a situation where harm or death was high. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.
Ethan Crumbley, 15, has been charged as an adult with two dozen crimes, including murder, attempted murder and terrorism, for the shooting Tuesday at Oxford High School in Oakland County, roughly 50 kilometres north of Detroit.
Four students were killed and seven more people were injured. Three were in hospitals in stable condition.
The semi-automatic gun was purchased legally by Crumbley’s father last week, according to investigators.
Parents in the U.S. are rarely charged in school shootings involving their children, even as most minors get guns from a parent or relative’s house, according to experts.
‘Far beyond negligence’
There’s no Michigan law that requires gun owners to keep weapons locked away from children. McDonald, however, suggested there’s more to build a case on.
“All I can say at this point is those actions on mom and dad’s behalf go far beyond negligence,” she told WJR-AM. “We obviously are prosecuting the shooter to the fullest extent. … There are other individuals who should be held accountable.”
Later at a news conference, McDonald said she hoped to have an announcement “in the next 24 hours.” She had firmly signalled that Crumbley’s parents were under scrutiny when she filed charges against their son Wednesday.
Sheriff Mike Bouchard disclosed Wednesday that the parents met with school officials about their son’s classroom behaviour, just a few hours before the shooting.
McDonald said information about what had troubled the school “will most likely come to light soon.”
The superintendent for the district posted a video to YouTube late Thursday where he said the teenager was called to the office before the shooting but “no discipline was warranted.”
Tim Throne, leader of Oxford Community Schools, said the high school looks like a “war zone” and won’t be ready for weeks. But he repeatedly credited students and staff for how they responded to the violence.
“To say that I am still in shock and numb is probably an understatement. These events that have occurred will not define us,” Throne, grim-faced and speaking slowly, said in the 12-minute video.
“I want you to know that there’s been a lot of talk about the student who was apprehended, that he was called up to the office and all that kind of stuff. No discipline was warranted,” Throne said. “There are no discipline records at the high school. Yes this student did have contact with our front office, and, yes, his parents were on campus Nov. 30.”
Throne said he couldn’t immediately release additional details.