Michigan School Shooter’s Parents Apprehended Following Rare Charges

Law enforcement surround the building where James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of suspected Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, were arrested on Saturday in Detroit, Michigan. Photo: Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images

James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of the 15-year-old accused of gunning down four students and injuring seven others at an Oxford, Michigan, high school earlier this week, were arrested early Saturday in Detroit after a brief manhunt.

Their son, Ethan Crumbley, pulled out a gun at his school on Tuesday, leading to the deadliest K-12 campus attack in the United States since 2018 and the 32nd such attack since August 1. The shooting claimed the lives of Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17.

The teen was charged as an adult with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of terrorism causing death, and is being held without bail. Crumbley’s parents, meanwhile, were charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with Tuesday’s attack — an uncommon consequence after such crimes.

Oakland County District Attorney Karen McDonald said James Crumbley, who is 45, bought his son the weapon he used — a 9-mm Sig Sauer — four days prior to the shooting. Jennifer Crumbley, 43, posted about the gun on social media, calling it her son’s “new Christmas present”; a law-enforcement source told CNN Mrs. Crumbley took Ethan to a shooting range the weekend before the shooting. Authorities also said that the day before the shooting, a teacher discovered Ethan searching online for ammunition during class, prompting school officials to meet with his parents. Afterwards, McDonald said, Mrs. Crumbley texted her son, “LOL, I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”

On the morning of the day of the shooting, McDonald said, a teacher found a disturbing note on which the teen had apparently drawn a gun, a bullet, a person who had been shot, and a laughing emoji, as well as written “blood everywhere” and “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley were called to the school and told they needed to get their son into counseling within 48 hours. But the parents apparently did not intervene. The Crumbleys didn’t ask their son about the handgun, did not check his backpack, and refused to pull him out of school that day. Instead, he returned to class and allegedly later opened fire on his classmates. “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,” McDonald said when announcing the charges against the Crumbleys.

After seeing reports of the shooting, Mrs. Crumbley texted her son, “Ethan, don’t do it.” Mr. Crumbley called 911 and reported that the handgun, which the parents kept in an unlocked drawer in their bedroom, was missing and that his son might be the shooter.

Though 30 states have child access prevention laws, which require safe storage of firearms in households with minors, Michigan is not among them. But Michigan law allows for charges of involuntary manslaughter if authorities believe someone contributed to a situation in which there was a high likelihood of death or harm. On Friday, McDonald announced that James and Jennifer Crumbley each faced four charges of involuntary manslaughter. Each count is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Hours after the charges against the parents were announced on Friday, authorities said that the Crumbleys were missing. They were found in the basement of a commercial building in Detroit early Saturday, after someone spotted their vehicle outside the building and tipped off police. Later Saturday, the parents appeared in court via video and pleaded not guilty to the charges. Lawyers for the parents denied the couple had fled from police. The judge imposed a $500,000 bond (plus other restrictions) for each parent, regardless.

As the Washington Post points out, it is exceedingly rare for parents of school shooters to be charged with crimes afterward. In the U.S. over the last two decades, there have only been four instances in which adult owners of weapons used by children in school shootings faced criminal punishment for failing to lock the weapons up, according to the Post’s analysis.

Michigan School Shooter’s Parents Apprehended