Michigan school shooting: What we know about the parents of accused teenager
The parents of a teenager accused of killing four students at a Michigan high school earlier this week have been taken into custody by police the day after a prosecutor announced charges would be filed against them.
On Friday, it was announced that James and Jennifer Crumbley face criminal charges for their alleged roles in what ultimately led to the school shooting that their son, Ethan Crumbley, 15, is accused of committing. None of the charges have been proven in court.
The parents were captured in a commercial building in Detroit on Saturday, Detroit Police said, after the business owner spotted a car tied to the Crumbleys in his parking lot and reported it.
During a hearing held on Zoom on Saturday, the Crumbleys stated that they were pleading not guilty to all charges. A judge assigned a combined bond of US$1 million for the parents.
The four students killed have been identified as 16-year-old Tate Myre, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin and 17-year-old Justin Shilling.
Parents in the U.S. have rarely been charged in school shootings involving their children, experts say.
But a main factor behind the charges is the use of a semi-automatic handgun, which the prosecutor said is the same one James purchased just days before the killings took place.
If found guilty, they could each face up to 15 years in prison, according to a spokeswoman for Oakland Country Prosecutor Karen McDonald’s office.
Here is what we know so far about James and Jennifer Crumbley and the nature of the charges.
WHAT ARE THE CHARGES?
McDonald announced that James and Jennifer Crumbley had each been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after the shooting Tuesday at Oxford High School, located about 50 kilometres north of Detroit, that also injured seven other people.
Ethan Crumbley is alleged to have emerged from a bathroom at the school, with a gun, at which point he shot students in the hallway.
He has since been charged as an adult with murder, attempted murder, terrorism causing death, and gun crimes. A judge this week ordered that he be moved from a juvenile facility to a county jail.
Authorities can pursue involuntary manslaughter charges under Michigan law if it is believed someone contributed to a situation where there was a high chance of harm or death.
McDonald has previously said the shooting was premeditated based, in part, on a "mountain of digital evidence."
A county sheriff's lieutenant said during a court hearing this week that the accused recorded video the night before the shooting in which he discussed killing students.
"I want to be really clear that 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," McDonald said.
"When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences."
WHAT HAS THE PROSECUTOR ALLEGED?
McDonald told media on Friday that James Crumbley purchased a 9-mm Sig Sauer handgun from a shooting goods store in Oxford, Mich., on Black Friday, with a store employee confirming Ethan was with his father at the time of the purchase.
Ethan later shared photos on social media of the handgun, alongside a heart emoji, saying, "Just got my new beauty today," McDonald said.
She added that Jennifer Crumbley also wrote a post on social media that read, "Mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present."
A law-enforcement source also told CNN that during the weekend, Jennifer Crumbley took her son to a shooting range.
A day before the shooting, McDonald said a teacher at the school saw Ethan searching for ammunition on his phone. After informing Jennifer of this, she allegedly texted her son: "Lol. I'm not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught."
The following day, a teacher found, and took a photo of, a note on Ethan's desk that included a drawing of a handgun, with the words, "The thoughts won't stop. Help me," McDonald said.
She said the note also contained a drawing of a bullet with the words, "Blood everywhere," a person who appeared to be shot twice and bleeding, and additional writing that said, "My life is useless" and "The world is dead."
James and Jennifer were called to a meeting at the school and advised to get Ethan counselling within 48 hours, McDonald said. She said the couple failed to check his backpack or ask if he had his gun with him.
McDonald said after resisting the idea of their son leaving school, he returned to class. She said that afternoon, Jennifer texted her son, "Ethan, don't do it," while James later called 911 to report his gun was missing from his house and he believed his son may be the school shooter.
McDonald said further investigation revealed the handgun had been stored unlocked in a drawer in the couple's bedroom.
"I am not here to say that people shouldn't own guns," McDonald told reporters. "I know a lot of people who own guns, but they do so responsibly, and 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."
In a video message on Thursday, Supt. Tim Throne, the head of Oxford Community Schools, said in reference to the meeting with the Crumbleys that, "No discipline was warranted."
Asked if charges may be laid against school officials, McDonald only said, "The investigation is ongoing."
WHO ARE THE PARENTS?
Both James and Jennifer Crumbley were seen during their son's virtual court appearance this week, but they later disappeared on Friday, with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office issuing an alert that afternoon as part of a search for the couple, even releasing the licence plate number of their black SUV.
The U.S. Marshals also said the Detroit Fugitive Apprehension team worked with the sheriff's office on the search.
The couple's attorney, Shannon Smith, has since said that they were not on the run and had left town earlier in the week "for their own safety" and would return to be arraigned, The Associated Press reported.
However, they would miss their arraignment on Friday, and according to McDonald, they had taken US$4,000 out of an ATM that morning, not far from the courthouse.
Prior to their arrest on Saturday, the U.S. Marshals had announced a reward of up to US$10,000 for information that led to their capture.
Detroit Police Chief James E. White said in a press conference Saturday that the Crumbleys “appeared to be hiding” in the building in Detroit when police arrived, and that they were “distressed” when taken into custody.
White added that the couple had been aided by someone who let them into the commercial building, and that this person may also face charges.
While previous reporting has referenced the social media accounts of James and Jennifer Crumbley, much of it has been removed or deleted.
The Daily Beast reported that in November 2016, James Crumbley shared a blog post purportedly written by Jennifer penned to then U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Although the blog has been removed, an archived version is available.
The Detroit Free Press has reported that James was furloughed from his job as a telemarketer at a software company shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to his Facebook page, which now appears to have been taken down, he started a job in February at a San Francisco-based security technology company.
Public records, meanwhile, show that Jennifer held a real estate licence in Michigan between 2013 and 2018.
With files from The Associated Press