The parents of the teenager accused of killing four students at a high school in the US state of Michigan this week have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, after officials accused the pair of allowing their son access to the gun used in the shooting.
Jennifer and James Crumbley were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter on Friday.
Under Michigan law, an involuntary manslaughter charge can be pursued if prosecutors believe someone contributed to a situation where harm or death was high. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.
“These charges are intended to hold the individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable and also send a message that gun owners have a responsibility,” Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald told reporters on Friday.
“When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences.”
Ethan Crumbley, 15, is facing multiple charges, including terrorism and murder, after authorities say he opened fire at a high school in Oxford – north of Detroit – on Tuesday, killing four and injuring seven others.
Authorities issued a fugitive arrest warrant for the parents, who were scheduled to appear in court on Friday afternoon but remain at large. Lawyers for the parents told the Detroit News newspaper that the couple “are not fleeing from law enforcement” and would appear for arraignment.
Prosecutors say the gunman had planned the attack, according to evidence recovered from his cell phone and social media accounts.
The gun used in the attack was purchased by the suspect’s father on November 26, just days before the attack, investigators also said earlier this week. James Crumbley brought Ethan along with him when he purchased the handgun, prosecutors said.
During the news conference on Friday, McDonald said a teacher found a note on Ethan Crumbley’s desk on the day of the shooting that contained a drawing of a gun and the words “blood everywhere” and “the thoughts won’t stop, help me”.
The school then held a meeting with his parents, who were told to get him into counseling within 48 hours, McDonald said. But the 15-year-old high school sophomore went back to finish his school day.
“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,” McDonald told reporters.
When he heard reports of a shooting at the school, James Crumbley immediately drove home to look for the gun, which was missing, McDonald also said. Crumbley then called authorities to say he suspected his son may be the shooter.
The deadly attack has sent shockwaves across Michigan, as well as spurred calls for stricter gun control laws in the United States.
“This is a uniquely American problem that we need to address,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said earlier this week, calling Tuesday’s shooting “every parent’s worst nightmare”.
Fatal gun violence has increased in the United States over the past two years.
There were 611 mass shootings in the country in 2020, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The research group defines a mass shooting as any incident in which four or more people are shot or killed, not including the shooter.
The Michigan chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, groups that belong to the Everytown for Gun Safety advocacy network, have called for stricter measures in the aftermath of the violence in Oxford.
“No one should experience what my cousin did today while he was in school,” Aria Segura, a Students Demand Action volunteer whose cousin attends Oxford High School, said in a statement.
“We should not have to live in a world with gun violence in our schools, or in our communities, but for far too many of us, this is our reality. We need real action to protect all students and communities from gun violence,” Segura said.
Democratic US Senator Chris Murphy sought unanimous consent on Thursday to pass a House of Representatives-approved bill that would require universal background checks for gun sales. But it failed to pass due to Republican opposition.
“The damage happening across this country is acute; it is real; it is pervasive. This is an epidemic of gun violence that exists in the United States and nowhere else,” Murphy said.