Weapons used in shooting in US schools often come from the homes of young criminals, experts say, but parents are rarely charged with violence.
This is what makes the case against Ethan Crumbley’s parents unusual after the murder of four students at Oxford High School in southeastern Michigan. Oakland County Attorney Karen MacDonald said Jennifer and James Crumbley ignored the opportunity to intervene just hours before the bloodshed.
They face four charges of manslaughter, and 15-year-old Ethan is charged as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes.
Crumbley’s parents were taken into custody early Saturday and later appeared in court, where a judge set bail at $ 500,000 each after they pleaded not guilty. Their lawyers said they would dispute the charges.
Here are some of the problems that parents face:
What do we know about the pistol?
The semi-automatic pistol used on Tuesday was acquired by James Crumbley on November 26, as his son stood outside the store, investigators said.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Jennifer Crumbly called him a “Christmas present” for her son on social media, and Ethan posted a photo of him on social media, calling it his “new beauty,” MacDonald said.
With some very limited exceptions, minors in Michigan are not allowed to carry weapons. But there is no Michigan law requiring owners to keep weapons out of the reach of children.
“Many states do this. There are 23 states plus Washington DC that have some form of safekeeping law, said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
During a court appearance on Saturday, attorney Shannon Smith said the used gun was blocked, but she did not say how their son got it.
Will it be difficult to prove manslaughter?
“This is an unusual charge,” said Yves Brensike Primus, professor of criminal procedure at the University of Michigan Law School.
Police said Ethan Crumbley came out of the bathroom and started shooting at other students in the hallway of the Oxford School. A few hours earlier, he and his parents met with the school leadership. The teacher found on his desk a drawing with a pistol aimed at the words: “Thoughts do not stop. Help me, ”the prosecutor said.
Ethan, who had no disciplinary action, was advised to seek advice but was allowed to stay at the school. MacDonald said his backpack was not checked for weapons.
Primus said the authorities must demonstrate gross negligence on the part of the parents and a causal relationship or act of causing something.
“The prosecutor will need evidence to support the argument that these parents did know that there was a risk that their son would take a gun and shoot people,” she said. “Not only that their son was worried about something. This is a murder charge that carries with it years in prison. This is a big price to pay. “
In 2000, a Flint man withdrew from manslaughter after a 6-year-old boy who lived with him found a gun in a shoebox and killed a classmate.
Why aren’t parents charged more often?
A 2019 U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimate found that weapons came from the home of a parent or close relative in 76% of school firearms attacks. In about half of the cases, firearms were readily available.
But, according to experts, laws aimed at limiting access to weapons are not always enforced and vary in strength.
“Our laws are not entirely tailored to the reality of school shootings, and the closest we have are laws to prevent access for children,” said Chris Brown, president of Brady’s advocacy group.
In 2020, the mother of a teenager from Indiana was sentenced to probation for not carrying a weapon out of her home after her mentally ill son threatened to kill students. In 2018, he shot at his school. No one was hurt, but the boy committed suicide.
In Washington state, the father of a boy who killed four high school students in 2014 was convicted of illegal possession of a firearm. He was not charged with the shooting, although one of his guns was used.
AP reporter Sofia Taryn from Chicago contributed to the story.