The parents of a teenager accused of a school shooting in Michigan that left four people dead have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter.
James and Jennifer Crumbley were charged with involuntary manslaughter for buying their son the weapon as a Christmas gift and ignoring warning signs as late as the day of the shooting.
“The parents were the only individuals in the position to know the access to weapons,” Oakland Country prosecutor Karen McDonald said, adding that the gun “seems to have been just freely available to that individual”.
She said the parents’ actions went “far beyond negligence”.
A fugitive warrant was issued for the pair for failing to appear for a court arraignment on Friday. The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office also posted a Be on the Lookout notice for them on Facebook.
At a court hearing on Saturday the Crumbleys entered not guilty pleas to each of the four involuntary manslaughter counts against them during a hearing held on Zoom.
Judge Julie Nicholson assigned bond of $500,000 (£377,000) apiece to each of the parents and placed other requirements such as GPS monitoring, agreeing with prosecutors that they posed a flight risk.
Defense attorneys for the couple said they never intended to flee and planned to turn themselves in on Saturday morning.
They accused prosecutors of “cherry picking” facts to publicly release and said their clients were terrified and only wanted time to make arrangements.
“Our clients are just as devastated as everyone else,” attorney Shannon Smith said.
Police filed involuntary manslaughter charges against the Crumbleys on Friday, accusing them of failing to intervene on the day of the tragedy despite being confronted with a drawing and chilling message — “blood everywhere” — that was found at the boy’s desk.
The Crumbleys committed “egregious” acts, from buying a gun on Black Friday and making it available to Ethan Crumbley to resisting his removal from school when they were summoned a few hours before the shooting, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said.
Authorities had been looking for the couple since Friday afternoon.
Late Friday, U.S. Marshals announced a reward of up to $10,000 (£7,500) each for information leading to their arrests.
The Crumbleys’ attorney, Shannon Smith, said Friday that the pair had left town earlier in the week “for their own safety” and would be returning to Oxford to face charges.
But Detroit Police Chief James E. White seemed to dismiss the possibility that was their intention and said they had been found hiding in a warehouse.
On Friday, McDonald offered the most precise account so far of the events that led to the shooting at Oxford High School, roughly 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Detroit.
Ethan Crumbley, 15, emerged from a bathroom with a gun, shooting students in the hallway, investigators said.
He’s charged as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes.
Under Michigan law, the involuntary manslaughter charge filed against the parents can be pursued if authorities believe someone contributed to a situation where there was a high chance of harm or death.
Parents in the U.S. are rarely charged in school shootings involving their children, even as most minors get guns from a parent or relative’s house, according to experts.
School officials became concerned about Ethan on Monday, a day before the shooting, when a teacher saw him searching for ammunition on his phone.
Jennifer Crumbley was contacted and subsequently told her son in a text message: “Lol. I’m not mad at you.
You have to learn not to get caught,” according to the prosecutor.
On Tuesday, a teacher found a note on Ethan’s desk and took a photo.
It was a drawing of a gun pointing at the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” McDonald said.
There also was a drawing of a bullet, she said, with words above it: “Blood everywhere.”
Between the gun and the bullet was a person who appeared to have been shot twice and is bleeding. He also wrote, “My life is useless” and “The world is dead,” according to the prosecutor.
The school quickly had a meeting with Ethan and his parents, who were told to get him into counseling within 48 hours, McDonald said.
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,” McDonald said.Instead, the teen returned to class and the shooting subsequently occurred.
“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 — it’s criminal,” the prosecutor said.Jennifer Crumbley texted her son after the shooting, saying, “Ethan, don’t do it,” McDonald said.
James Crumbley called 911 to say that a gun was missing from their home and that Ethan might be the shooter.
The gun had been kept in an unlocked drawer in the parents’ bedroom.
The Crumbleys’ attorneys said Saturday that the weapon was kept locked but didn’t provide more information during the couple’s court appearance.
Ethan accompanied his father for the gun purchase on November 26 and posted photos of the firearm on social media, saying, “Just got my new beauty today,” McDonald said.
Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, Jennifer Crumbley wrote on social media that it is a “mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present,” the prosecutor said.
Asked at a news conference if the father could be charged for purchasing the gun for the son, McDonald said that would be the decision of federal authorities.
In a video message to the community Thursday, the head of Oxford Community Schools said the high school looks like a “war zone” and won’t be ready for weeks.
Superintendent Tim Throne repeatedly complimented students and staff for how they responded to the violence.
He also acknowledged the meeting of Crumbley, the parents and school officials.
Throne offered no details but summed it up by saying, “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 school officials may potentially be charged, McDonald said: “The investigation’s ongoing.”