The strange case of the Michigan school shooter

In many ways, the tragedy of the high school student who shot and killed four students and injured seven others follows a pattern we have become drearily familiar with in this gun-soaked and violent country.

What makes this different is the strange role played by the parents. Usually parents express shock and disbelief at what their child did and try to find reasons that might at least partly exculpate them. But in this case, the parents seem to have played a different role, almost as if they were aiding him. Apparently they had purchased the gun just four days before and seemed to have left it in a location that was easily accessible to their 15-year old son. Furthermore, there had been warning signs on the very day of the shooting that the boy was disturbed and had violent fantasies.

The semi-automatic gun was purchased legally by Crumbley’s father last week, according to investigators.

The parents were summoned to the school a few hours before the shooting occurred after a teacher found a drawing of a gun, a person bleeding and the words “help me” and “blood everywhere” and a laughing emoji, McDonald said at a press conference on Friday morning.

Prosecutors have revealed more details of drawings and writings made by the gunman, suggesting the possibility that he was planning a shooting rampage.

I recall when I started teaching in the US about three decades ago when, on a final exam, a student who had clearly given up on the course handed in his blue book filled mainly with drawings of guns and violent imagery. I was bothered by it but did not do anything, seeing it as a failing student venting his frustrations. Nothing came of that incident but if such a thing happened now, I would definitely report it to the counseling services and campus security.

How can we explain the strange behavior of the parents? Even after being apprised of their son’s disturbing behavior, they still did not lock away the weapon. And was the purchase of the gun just four days earlier merely a coincidence? Whose idea was it to buy the gun anyway? It boggles the mind to think that parents could be part of a scheme to have their son shoot up their son’s school but the authorities seem to see evidence of culpability.

Parents in the US are rarely charged in school shootings involving their children, even though most minors get guns from a parent or relative’s house, according to experts.

“Gun ownership is a right but with that right comes comes great responsibility,” McDonald said.

There is no Michigan law that requires gun owners keep weapons locked away from children. McDonald, however, suggested there was more to build a case on.

“All I can say at this point is those actions on mom and dad’s behalf go far beyond negligence,” she had told local station WJR-AM.

“We obviously are prosecuting the shooter to the fullest extent … There are other individuals who should be held accountable.”

McDonald said that Jennifer Crumbley had texted her son “You have to learn not to get caught” after a teacher saw him searching online for ammunition.

She described the parents’ conduct as “unconscionable” and “criminal”.

A warrant has been issued for the arrest of the parents but they have disappeared, though their lawyer says that they left town for their own safety but would return to face arraignment.


  1. anat says

    Updates here

    James and Jennifer Crumbley were the subject of a manhunt Friday after authorities were unable to locate the couple, and they did not show up to a 4 p.m. arraignment Friday, Dec. 3. The pair were found early Saturday morning in a Detroit warehouse.

    Shannon Smith, an attorney for the couple, said the couple were prepared to turn themselves in, and were unaware of the 4 p.m. arraignment.

    McDonald suggested a $500,000 bond, due to the couple not showing up for their first hearing, and citing that nobody in the community was vouching for them.

    They claim they were not fleeing, but this blog post says:

    Right, that’s why they turned off their cellphones, drew $4K from an ATM, and were found hiding in a warehouse 50 miles from their house and a few hundred feet from the Canadian border.

    Protip: If you’re hiding from the laws, don’t park the car registered under your name right in front of your hideout.

  2. billseymour says

    The parents are definitely the bad guys here.  I can’t help but notice that they went on the run “for their own safety” instead of hanging around to support their child.  Disgusting.

  3. Who Cares says

    You wrote that these days you’d report the kid that handed in a book full of drawn guns an violence.
    Ethan was reported looking for ammo during school hours, the school did contact the parents about it. Their reaction was telling Ethan that he should learn to not get caught (and ignoring the school).

    Further it seems the kid was somehow recognizing he was at the start of a psychotic episode and at school wrote a note asking for help to stop his own thoughts. Hours before the shooting his parents were at the school were they were told to get him help in the next two days.

  4. anat says

    When the drawings were found, why did the school let him stay there? In my district the procedure is keep the student in the office, under supervision, call the parents and police. If parents don’t remove the kid and the police decide not to arrest them, they would be held, supervised, in the office until the end of the day (and not allowed on the bus home).

  5. Mobius says

    The latest I have read is that the parents are now in custody and are being held on bail of half a million each.

  6. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    It should be “held without bail” -- they’re an obvious flight risk considering that they very clearly tried to flee the jurisdiction preemptively.

  7. says

    Anyone who owns a gun that is used by somebody else to commit a crime should be held automatically complicit in that crime, and it should never be a defence if the gun was taken and used without their knowledge. If they did not wish to risk a long prison sentence, they should have locked it up better — or, for preference, just not had a gun at all.

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