Parents Of Accused School Shooter Charged With Involuntary Manslaughter

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

The parents of the 15-year old who killed four of his classmates and wounded several others with his father’s recently-purchased pistol are now facing charges of their own. Earlier today, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald announced that James and Jennifer Crumbley have both been charged with involuntary manslaughter for, in essence, allowing their son access to a firearm when they should have been aware that he was a danger to himself or others.

On Nov. 29, a teacher saw [name redacted by Bearing Arms] researching ammunition in class, the prosecutor said. The teen’s parents were called and emailed but they didn’t respond to school officials, she said. However, according to the prosecutor, Jennifer Crumbley texted her son about the incident, writing, “lol, I’m not mad at you, you have to learn not to get caught.”

According to McDonald, the morning of the shooting, [name redacted]’s teacher saw a note on his desk which alarmed her. McDonald said the note was “a drawing of a semi-automatic handgun pointing at the words, ‘The thoughts won’t stop, help me.’ In another section of the note was a drawing of a bullet with the following words above that bullet, ‘Blood everywhere.'”

“Between the drawing of the gun and the bullet is a drawing of a person who appears to have been shot twice and bleeding,” she said. “Below that figure is a drawing of a laughing emoji. Further down the drawing are the words, ‘My life is useless,’ and to the right of that are the words, ‘The world is dead.'”

[Name redacted] was removed from the classroom and his parents were called to the school, McDonald said.

By the time a counselor obtained the drawing, the teen had allegedly altered it, McDonald said.

“At the meeting, James and Jennifer Crumbley were shown the drawing and were advised that they were required to get their son into counseling within 48 hours,” she said. “Both James and Jennifer Crumbley failed to ask their son if he had his gun with him or where his gun was located and failed to inspect his backpack for the presence of the gun, which he had with him.”

The parents left school while [name redacted] returned to class, likely with the gun in his backpack, McDonald said.

Once news broke of a shooting at the school, McDonald said Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, “[Name redacted], don’t do it.”

James Crumbley called 911 to report that a gun was missing from his house and said he believed his son may be the shooter, McDonald said.

Authorities determined James Crumbley’s semi-automatic handgun was stored unlocked in a drawer in his bedroom, McDonald said.

So, are these charges warranted? Over at HotAir, my friend and colleague Ed Morrissey notes that this may be the first time that the parents of a shooter have been charged with manslaughter, but I’m aware of at least one other case where the parent of a juvenile faced felony charges over her role in her son’s attack on a school.

I think a case for criminal negligence could be made here, especially given that the suspect’s mom texted her son and told him “don’t do it” when she first learned of the shooting at Oxford High School. That, along with the specifics of the previously unknown “incidents” that led to the parents and suspect meeting with the school the morning of the attack, suggests that they not only had cause for concern, but that they were concerned about their son’s behavior.

But when exactly should they have known something was terribly wrong with their child? The Oakland County prosecutor is trying to draw some connections that wouldn’t have necessarily been cause for alarm at the time, like the suspect getting caught looking up ammunition in school. Jennifer Crumbley’s reaction of “lol, don’t get caught” seems chilling in retrospect, not to mention her social media post about the two of them “testing out his new Christmas present,” but if any of my kids had been caught doing the same while they were in school I wouldn’t have leapt to the conclusion that they were planning on killing their classmates, especially if I’d just taken them shooting the weekend before. And of course, if I had any concerns about my child shooting up his school, we wouldn’t be going target practicing at all.

Did the parents just not give a damn about their son’s behavior, or were they genuinely clueless until they got to school that morning?

The big question is whether or not these parents had reason to believe that their son was going to harm anyone, but there’s also the issue of the school district’s responsibility here. McDonald says that the parents never asked their son if he had brought a gun to school nor searched his backpack after they met with school officials that morning, but the school counselor was also apparently unconcerned enough that he allowed the suspect to return to class. The school resource officer who was on campus was never asked to come to the meeting to search the suspect’s backpack or pat him down for weapons, even after the contents of his note were known to school officials.

In retrospect these decisions were obviously the wrong call, yet the school superintendent has also been adamant that “no discipline was warranted” based on the suspect’s actions prior to opening fire. If that was true for the suspect’s time in school, does that also apply to his actions at home? Were there really enough warning signs for the parents to have known that their son was apparently planning to murder his classmates?

I don’t think we know yet, though investigators may have more details that haven’t been released to the public. I do know that if my wife and I had been called to the school and presented with the same note that the suspect drew in class, I wouldn’t have been leaving without him. And my thoughts wouldn’t have been about trying to protect the school from my kid, to be honest. It would have been about trying to protect him from himself.

That’s the biggest red flag to me as far as the parents’ actions are concerned at the moment, though if it comes out that, yes, there was genuine cause for alarm before the suspect’s dad even purchased the gun, I would absolutely question the wisdom of leaving it accessible to the teen. I’m not in favor of storage mandates, in part because I’ve covered plenty of stories where minors have had to access their parents’ firearms in order to protect themselves, their siblings, or other family members from intruders and home invaders, but I also believe that its incumbent on us as parents to make sure that if our kids are in trouble, we don’t ignore or downplay the problems that they’re having. Not because “it oughta be a law,” but because that’s what moms and dads (regardless of our gun ownership) are supposed to do.

By the way, McDonald declared just hours after the shooting that the attack demonstrates the need to “revisit our gun laws”, but during today’s press conference she tried to do some damage control for injecting politics into her role as a prosecutor by insisting that these charges aren’t politically motivated.

 

It seems to me the charges against the parents will come down to “what did they know and when did they know it?” Michigan does already have a law imposing criminal liability on parents if their minor child gains access to a gun and uses it in a crime, and I think that’s probably a better fit than involuntary manslaughter here based on the evidence to date. We’ll see what other evidence comes out, but I think Ed Morrissey is right that when all is said and done it’s going to be hard for a jury to not hold the parents at least somewhat responsible for the murderous and evil actions of their child.