The parents of the Michigan teen charged with killing four students at his high school this week “could have stopped” the shooting, prosecutors alleged at the parents’ arraignment on Saturday, before the judge set a combined $1m bond.
During a Zoom hearing, James and Jennifer Crumbley entered not guilty pleas to each of four involuntary manslaughter counts.
An extensive hunt was launched on Friday after the Crumbleys failed to attend their original arraignment. US Marshals announced a reward of up to $10,000 each. Police said the Crumbleys were caught hiding in a commercial building.
On Saturday, prosecutor Karen McDonald said the Crumbleys “could have stopped” the shooting, adding that there was a “strong” likelihood they would be convicted. Jennifer Crumbley cried as she was asked about the charges but her husband, James, remained “non-emotional” the Detroit News reported.
Judge Julie Nicholson assigned bond of $500,000 each and other requirements such as GPS monitoring.
“These charges are very, very serious, there’s no question about that,” the Detroit Free Press quoted Nicholson as saying. “The court does have some concern about the flight risk along with the public safety given the circumstances that occurred yesterday and the fact that defendants did have to be apprehended in order to appear for purposes of arraignment.”
The Crumbleys were captured early on Saturday in a building that housed artwork, the Detroit police chief, James E White, told reporters. The Crumbleys’ attorney, Shannon Smith, said on Friday the pair left Oxford, where the shooting happened, earlier in the week “for their own safety” and would return to face charges.
White said: “This isn’t indicative of turning yourself in, hiding in a warehouse.”
White said the couple “were aided in getting into the building” and that a person could face charges.
A Detroit business owner spotted a car tied to the Crumbleys in his parking lot late on Friday, Oakland county undersheriff Michael McCabe said. A woman seen near the vehicle ran away. McCabe added that the parents appeared to be “distressed” when they were captured.
“Head down … just very upset,” he said of one.
A prosecutor filed involuntary manslaughter charges against the Crumbleys on Friday, accusing them of failing to intervene on the day of the shooting despite being confronted with a drawing and chilling message, “blood everywhere”, found at their son’s desk.
The Crumbleys committed “egregious” acts, from buying a gun and making it available to Ethan Crumbley to resisting his removal from school when they were summoned a few hours before the shooting, McDonald said on Friday.
The prosecutor offered the most precise account so far of events that led to the shooting at Oxford high school, around 30 miles north of Detroit, on Tuesday. Ethan Crumbley, 15, is alleged to have emerged from a bathroom with a gun and shot students in a hallway. He is charged as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes.
Officials had become concerned about him on Monday, when a teacher saw him searching for ammunition on his phone, McDonald said. Jennifer Crumbley was contacted. In a text message, she told her son: “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught”.
On Tuesday, a teacher found a note on Ethan’s desk. It was a drawing of a gun pointing at the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me”. There also was a drawing of a bullet with words above it: “Blood everywhere.” Between the gun and the bullet was a person who appeared to have been shot twice and was bleeding. Crumbley also wrote, “My life is useless” and “The world is dead”.
The school met with Ethan and his parents, who were told to get him into counseling within 48 hours. But the Crumbleys failed to ask their son about the gun or check his backpack and “resisted the idea of their son leaving the school at that time”. The teen returned to class.
“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,” McDonald said. “It’s criminal.”
Jennifer Crumbley texted her son after the shooting, saying, “Ethan, don’t do it.” James Crumbley called 911 to say a gun was missing and Ethan might be the shooter. The gun had been in an unlocked drawer in the parents’ bedroom, McDonald said.
Ethan accompanied his father for the gun purchase on 26 November and posted photos on social media, saying, “Just got my new beauty today.” Over Thanksgiving, Jennifer Crumbley wrote that it was a “mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present”.
Asked if the father could be charged for purchasing the gun for the son, McDonald said that would be a federal decision.
In a video message, the head of Oxford Community Schools said the high school looked like a “war zone” and would not be ready for regular use for weeks. Superintendent Tim Throne acknowledged the meeting of Crumbley, his parents and officials and said: “No discipline was warranted.”
McDonald was asked about the decision to keep Crumbley in school.
“Of course, he shouldn’t have gone back to that classroom … I believe that is a universal position. I’m not going to chastise or attack, but yeah,” she said.
Asked if officials may be charged, McDonald said: “The investigation’s ongoing.”
In a statement on Saturday, the Crumbleys’ attorneys said: “We understand that our clients were apprehended last night although we fully intended to turn them in first thing this morning for arraignment, contrary to the misinformation that has been rampant in the media.
“Unfortunately, this case presents the most unimaginable tragedy for every single person involved … [but] the charges in this case are intended to make an example and send a message. The prosecution has very much cherry-picked and slanted specific facts to further their narrative to do that.”