Oxford school shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley’s mother weeps as she and husband plead not guilty after arrest

Jennifer and James Crumbley appeared at their arraignment on four charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection to Tuesday’s mass shooting, which left four students dead and seven other people wounded

Rachel Sharp
Saturday 04 December 2021 19:13 GMT
Lawyers say Crumbley parents 'not a flight risk' as pair appear at arraignment

The mother of Michigan high school shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley wept as she and her husband pleaded not guilty at their arraignment, hours after they were arrested following a huge overnight manhunt.

Jennifer and James Crumbley were charged on Saturday morning with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter in connection with Tuesday’s mass shooting, in which their 15-year-old son allegedly shot dead four students and wounded seven other people at Oxford High School.

They both pleaded not guilty to all the charges via videolink from Oakland County jail – the same jail where their son has been held since his arrest on multiple counts of murder and terrorism.

Ms Crumbley sobbed and covered her face with her hand as she said she understood the charges and entered her pleas. The Crumbleys each face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Four students died in the mass shooting – Tate Myre, 16; Hana St Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17 – and one teacher and six students were injured.

The arraignment came hours after the parents were found hiding out in a warehouse, from where they are thought to have been attempting to flee to Canada to escape prosecution.

The Crumbleys appeared to go on the run on Friday, allegedly withdrawing $4,000 (£3022) of cash from an ATM and switching off their mobile phones so that they couldn’t be located, hours after Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald announced her decision to bring charges against them.

Follow live updates on the Michigan school shooting

Prosecutor McDonald said in a Friday press conference that the parents’ failure to prevent Tuesday’s massacre was “criminal” and that it was her “intention to hold them accountable”.

They were scheduled to appear for their arraignment at 4pm on Friday afternoon but failed to show up, sparking a manhunt involving the US marshals service, with officials offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to their arrest.

Detroit police chief James White announced in a press briefing early on Saturday morning that the Crumbleys had been taken into custody at a commercial building in Detroit following a tip-off.

A car belonging to the Crumbleys was located in the parking lot of a business on Friday night, when a witness reported seeing a woman running from the vehicle.

The “distressed” couple were then taken into custody unarmed and “without incident”, said Mr White, adding that the fugitives “appeared to be hiding in the building” and that their behaviour wasn’t “indicative of turning themselves in, hiding in a warehouse”.

He said he believed it was “very likely” the Crumbleys were trying to escape to Canada after they were apprehended less than a mile from the border.

Parents of Michigan school shooting suspect plead not guilty as mother sobs in court

The couple were helped into the warehouse building by someone else, he said, adding that this could result in charges for that individual.

At their arraignment, bond was set at $500,000 each as prosecutors argued that their apparent attempt to flee proved them to be a flight risk. The couple “fled and they sought multiple attempts to hide their location”, prosecutors said, adding that they were found “locked in a room hiding”.

Attorneys for the Crumbleys had argued against the bond, claiming the couple were “absolutely going to turn themselves in” and saying it was “just a matter of logistics”.

Jennifer and James Crumbley pictured in their mugshots after their arrest in the early hours of Saturday
Jennifer and James Crumbley pictured in their mugshots after their arrest in the early hours of Saturday (EPA)

Mariell Lehman told the court her clients were “absolutely taking this case seriously” and were “devastated” by the massacre that unfolded this week.

“There’s no risk that they’re going to flee prosecution. They were never fleeing prosecution,” she said.

Instead, the attorneys accused the prosecutor’s office of “making a media spectacle” of the case, claiming they had contacted the prosecutor on Thursday night about arranging the couple’s surrender but that their messages had gone unanswered.

They also disputed the allegation that the firearm used in the shooting was freely available to Ethan, saying the “gun was locked” away from the teenager and that it was “absolutely not true” that he had access to it.

In a statement prior to the arraignment, Ms Lehman and attorney Shannon Smith doubled down on the claim that their clients had been planning to surrender.

“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,” they said.

“Unfortunately, this case presents the most unimaginable tragedy for every single person involved, including every member of the community.

“While it’s human nature to want to find someone to blame, or something to point to, or something that gives us answers, 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.”

They added: “We intend to fight this case in the courtroom and not in the court of public opinion. We know that in the end the entire story and truth will prevail.”

Ethan Crumbley is accused of murdering four fellow students in Tuesday’s massacre
Ethan Crumbley is accused of murdering four fellow students in Tuesday’s massacre (AP)

On Friday night, the attorneys insisted that the couple were not on the run but had left town for their own safety in the aftermath of the shooting and were returning to turn themselves in voluntarily. The Oakland County sheriff’s office disputed this claim, saying it was not aware of any such arrangement.

The court agreed with the prosecution and set the bond at $500,000 each. If the couple post bond, they are ordered to turn over all weapons to Oakland County sheriff’s office and must wear a monitoring device.

The decision to charge the parents of the suspected mass shooter is somewhat unprecedented.

The involuntary manslaughter charge is the strongest allowed under the law, which states that the parents of a child who violates firearm-related statutes on school property or in a school vehicle can be held criminally liable if the parent knew the child’s intentions or furthered their actions.

Prosecutors said the Crumbleys bought the gun for their son as a Christmas present and were aware of warning signs ahead of Tuesday’s violence, but did not remove him from the school and left the gun accessible to him.

Mr Crumbley bought the gun allegedly used in the shooting – a Sig Sauer 9mm, model SP 2022 – four days earlier on Black Friday, according to authorities. Ethan, who was reportedly with his father at the time of the purchase, then boasted about “my new beauty” on his now-removed Instagram account, prosecutors said.

His mother also allegedly posted about having a “Mom and son day testing out his new Xmas present” at a shooting range, alongside a photo of the gun.

The Crumbleys were then alerted to concerning behaviour by their son at his high school in the days that followed. On Monday, the day before the shooting, a teacher found the teenager searching for ammunition on his phone, prosecutors said. Attempts to alert Ms Crumbley were ignored, however the mother appeared to text her son about the incident around the same time.

“LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught,” she messaged Ethan, according to prosecutors.

On the morning of the shooting, officials said another teacher then found a drawing on the teenager’s desk of a handgun, a bullet and a person being shot. “The thoughts won’t stop, help me” and “blood everywhere” were scrawled on the note.

Law enforcement are seen surrounding the building in Detroit where the Crumbleys were found
Law enforcement are seen surrounding the building in Detroit where the Crumbleys were found (Getty)

The Crumbleys were called to the school and a meeting was held with them, their son and school officials. The parents fought to have him returned to class, prosecutors said, and were told to get Ethan counselling within 48 hours.

Hours later, the 15-year-old is accused of exiting a bathroom in the school and opening fire on his fellow students.

After news of the shooting spread, Ms Crumbley allegedly texted her son “Ethan, don’t do it”. Meanwhile, Mr Crumbley called 911 to report a gun was missing and to say that he believed his son to be the shooter, officials said.

Ethan is being held without bond on 24 charges, including one count of terrorism and four counts of first-degree murder.

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