On the day after Thanksgiving, James Crumbley took his 15-year-old son shopping at Acme Shooting Goods for an early Christmas gift: a SIG Sauer 9-millimeter model SP2022 handgun.
Four days later at Michigan’s Oxford High School, four students were shot dead, seven more people injured, and the lives of every witness forever changed. With the survivors’ grasp on safety so completely severed, it’s not a question of if they will suffer, but rather how badly.
At 12:51 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, callers placed the first of more than 100 911 calls to alert police there was an active shooter at the school. Faculty and students rushed for cover, built barricades, hid, sent texts, made phone calls, and feared for their lives.
The suspect, sophomore Ethan Crumbley, fired about 30 shots with his semiautomatic handgun over the course of several minutes before being apprehended in the hallway, authorities said. He had the gun, as well as at least two unused 15-round magazines.
At his arraignment Wednesday, he was charged as an adult with one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
“Charging this person as an adult is necessary to achieve justice and protect the public,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said in a press conference.
But there’s another element to protecting the public, McDonald has determined. And that is the ever-so-rare matter of charging Crumbley’s parents.
Jennifer and James Crumbley went on the run after learning they would be charged for their alleged role in the killing spree. Apprehended Saturday after an hours-long police search, they were arraigned and each faces four counts of manslaughter. A judge set bond at $500,000 each.
In making the announcement Friday, McDonald revealed the facts that led to her decision. They are maddening details. The story goes like this:
After his dad signed for and bought his new gun on Black Friday, Ethan Crumbley posted pictures of it to social media with emoji hearts and the caption, “Just got my new beauty today.”
He added, “SIG Sauer 9 mm. Any questions I will answer.”
On Saturday, Nov. 27, his mother made a post about his new gun, too: “Mom and son day, testing out his new Christmas present.”
On Monday at school, a teacher saw Ethan searching for ammunition on his cell phone and reported it to administrators. In turn, they called his mother, left a voicemail, and also sent an email to both parents.
School officials never heard back, McDonald said. But Ethan did.
“LOL I’m not mad at you,” she texted her son. “You have to learn not to get caught.”
On Tuesday, just hours before the rampage, James and Jennifer Crumbley were contacted again and summoned to the school immediately. A teacher had found a disturbing note on Ethan’s desk, featuring pictures of a gun and a person with two gunshot wounds. He included the phrases, “Blood everywhere”; “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me”; “My life is useless”; and “The world is dead.” He also drew a laugh emoji.
In the meeting, a school counselor showed his parents the drawing and said they needed to get mental health counseling for Ethan within two days. The parents made no mention of a gun. They didn’t ask to check his backpack – where, the prosecutor said, the gun was stored. They did, however, insist he stay in school for the day.
As news of the school shootings made its way to the community, Jennifer Crumbley texted her son at 1:22 p.m. She said, “Ethan, don’t do it.”
Fifteen minutes later, James Crumbley called 911 to report that a gun was missing from his house and suggested his son might be the shooter.
By then, Hana St. Juliana, 14, Tate Myre, 16, and Madisyn Baldwin, 17, were dead. Justin Shilling, 17, died from his injuries the following day.
On Friday, cushioning her remarks by saying she does not in any way believe parents are always culpable, McDonald stressed why she was charging the Crumbleys.
“I want to be really clear that these charges are intended to hold the individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable, and also send the message that gun owners have a responsibility. When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences.” she said.
“We need to do better in this country,” she added. “We need to say enough is enough.”
Suggested ending might be a little more to the point:
Saying the words isn’t enough. Authorities need to get tough on those who use guns illegally and those who cavalierly fail to take the danger of firearms seriously.
This just can’t keep happening.