Parents of school shooting suspect say gun was locked away

Parents of school shooting suspect say gun was locked away
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Oakland County, Michigan prosecutor Karen McDonald has been insistent that the parents of the Oxford, Michigan school shooting suspect were “beyond negligent” in allowing their 15-year old unfettered access to a handgun purchased days before as his Christmas present, but in a court filing on Wednesday, attorneys for James and Jennifer Crumbley disputed portions of McDonald’s narrative, claiming that the pair took care to keep the handgun away from the teen.

The facts presented by prosecutors have also changed, the attorneys wrote, claiming that McDonald said at a press conference on Dec. 3 that “…the gun was stored unlocked in a drawer in James and Jennifer’s bedroom.

Later in December, according to the filing, McDonald was asked during an interview on “Good Morning America” if the gun had been locked. She responded, according to the lawsuit, “No, I’m not positive because these are just allegations, but the evidence shows at this point that he does have free access to that weapon…”

The attorneys wrote in the filing that “the Crumbleys did have the gun at issue in a locked and hidden location.”

“It is clear from media appearances by McDonald that the case is one she takes very personally, which was filed angry and filed with an effort to send a message to gun owners,” the filing reads.

I don’t think there’s much to dispute about McDonald hoping to send a message to gun owners, especially since she repeatedly called for new gun control laws in response to the shooting. Whether or not she’s telling the truth about how the Crumbley’s handgun was stored, however, is very much an open question at this point.

Michigan doesn’t have a mandatory storage law, but McDonald is trying to make the case that, based on the information available to the parents, they had a duty to prevent their 15-year old son from accessing the handgun. McDonald has also criticized the parents for not searching their son’s backpack when they were called in to a meeting with a school guidance counselor the morning of the shooting, but has also acknowledged that the school district had the right to search the backpack and the student’s locker even if his parents declined to do so.

School leaders called the teen’s parents to the school on the morning of Nov. 30 after a teacher alerted a counselor to disturbing behavior. The teacher saw a piece of paper in front of [name redacted by Bearing Arms] with the words: “the thoughts won’t stop, help me” and a drawing of a bullet and the phrase: “blood everywhere.”

In the meeting — and it isn’t clear which school officials attended, although Superintendent Tim Throne said the school resource officer was not called — his parents were shown the drawings and were told they were required to get their son into counseling within 48 hours. Jennifer and James Crumbley were asked to remove their son from the school, a request they resisted. They left without him.

That last part of the story is still inexplicable to me. As a parent, if I’d been in that situation one of the first things I would have wanted to do after a meeting like that would be to get my kid out of there and speak to them one-on-one about what had happened. But even though I would have had a very different response, I’m not convinced that leaving their kid in school rises to the level of negligence, much less manslaughter, especially since the school could have removed the suspect from the premises regardless of what the parents decided to do with him.

A probable cause hearing for the parents has been set for early February, and that should provide a better look at the actual evidence that investigators and prosecutors have gathered, as opposed to the narrative set by McDonald through her media appearances. It may very well turn out that the parents are just as culpable as the prosecution has alleged, but the defense is telling a very different story, and figuring out which side is closer to the truth may take some time.