Parents of Oxford High School shooting suspect charged

James and Jennifer Crumbley are shown on a screen during their appearance in Oakland County court when their son, Ethan Crumbley, was arraigned in the Oxford High School shooting.
A prosecutor says the involuntary murder charges against James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of alleged Oxford High shooter Ethan Crumbley, are an attempt to hold them accountable for contributing to the shooting. (Screenshot from arraignment)

An internet search for ammunition during class. A chilling drawing of a pistol and a gunshot victim with blood everywhere. The words, “The thoughts won’t stop,” “The world is dead,” and “My life is useless.”

The signs were there, but Ethan Crumbley’s parents did nothing, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said.

That’s why James and Jennifer Crumbley are now charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after the shooting rampage that killed four students and wounded six others and one teacher at Oxford High School.

McDonald announced the charges Friday. She would not say whether Jennifer and James Crumbley are in custody.

Their son, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, was charged Wednesday with one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He is being prosecuted as an adult.

New details emerged Friday about the failures leading up to the shooting that took the lives of 16-year-old Tate Myre, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana; 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin; and 15-year-old Justin Shilling.

There were many opportunities to prevent the shooting, McDonald said, acknowledging the community’s anger at the school for not doing more.

When asked whether school personnel bear criminal responsibility, McDonald said only that the investigation is continuing. 

She offered this timeline of events during a news conference on Friday:

  • Four days before the shooting: The teenager posted a photo of the Sig Saur SP2022 semi-automatic handgun on social media, calling it “my new beauty.”
  • Three days before the shooting: Jennifer Crumbley posted on social media, “Mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present.”
  • One day before: The school left voicemail and email messages notifying Jennifer Crumbley that a teacher saw him searching on his phone for ammunition. She did not respond to the messages but instead texted her son saying, “LOL. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” 
  • Several hours before the shooting: A teacher noticed and photographed an alarming note on the teenager’s desk that included a drawing of a semi-automatic handgun, a bullet, a bleeding figure with two gunshot wounds, and several quotes including “The world is dead.” A school counselor escorted him to the school office with the drawing, which had since been altered to scratch out the violent scene and some of the words including, “My life is useless.” The school summoned the Crumbleys.
  • Three hours before the shooting: The parents arrived for a meeting where they declined to take their son home with them and failed to ask him where the gun was.
  • At 1:22 p.m. Jennifer Crumbley texted her son saying, “Ethan, don’t do it.”

By then, 11 people had been shot and her son was in custody.

As news of the shooting spread, James Crumbley looked for the gun, McDonald told reporters Friday. When he couldn’t find it, he called 911 to say he believed his son might be the shooter, she said.

“The notion that a parent could read those words (on the drawing) and also know that their son had access to a deadly weapon that they gave him is unconscionable, and I think it’s criminal,” McDonald said. “It is criminal.”

Criminal charges against parents of school shooters are unusual but not unprecedented.

“I am by no means saying that an active shooter situation should always result in a criminal prosecution against parents, but the facts in this case are so egregious,” McDonald said. “I expect parents — and everyone — to have humanity, and to step in and stop potential tragedy.”

She said the investigation is continuing and intimated that Michigan gun laws insufficiently address criminal responsibility. 

“We should take a very hard look at what gun owners are required to do,” she said. “It’s your duty to make sure you don’t give access to this deadly weapon to somebody that you have reason to believe is going to harm someone.

“Looking at that drawing it’s impossible not to conclude that there was a reason to believe that he was going to hurt somebody.”

Michigan has no laws requiring gun owners to secure weapons when children are in the home.

County prosecutors have been asking the Legislature to change that but partisan gridlock has prevented any movement to tighten gun laws. Proponents of the provision envisioned it stopping accidental shootings, not purposeful ones. Under it, adults who fail to properly secure firearms could be charged with a felony if a child under 12 uses the weapon to kill or injure. 

In some cases, prosecutors have been able to file charges under existing law. For example, prosecutors charged parents of two young children after unrelated gun incidents in Detroit. In one case, a boy shot himself in the arm. In the other a 10-year-old shot his cousin. Both survived. 

And in 2000, Jamelle James was charged with involuntary manslaughter after his 6-year-old found his handgun and shot 6-year-old classmate Kayla Rolland in Mount Morris Township.

Oxford is about 45 miles north of Detroit. The shooting is the 23rd incident involving gunfire on Michigan K-12 and college school grounds since 2013, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group.

Nationwide, there have been 28 shootings this year, according to the publication Education Week. Twenty of them have occurred since August.

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