HomeNewsNational NewsMichigan school shooting is 'so egregious,' the suspect's parents are

Michigan school shooting is ‘so egregious,’ the suspect’s parents are

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Parents of Michigan boy charged in school shooting

The parents of a teen accused of killing four students at a Michigan high school have been charged with involuntary manslaughter (Dec. 3)

AP

The prosecution of the parents of the alleged Michigan high school gunman highlights how rare it is for parents of perpetrators of mass shootings at schools to face charges themselves, legal experts and gun violence prevention groups say.

Parents Jennifer and James Crumbley each face four counts of involuntary manslaughter after prosecutors say their son, Ethan, methodically carried out a shooting rampage Tuesday at Oxford High School, killing four classmates and injuring seven other people.  

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald acknowledged Friday that charges are not often brought against parents in other school shooting cases, but that she intended to hold anyone who contributed to the shooting accountable.

“I am by no means saying that an active shooter situation should always result in a criminal prosecution against parents. But the facts of this case are so egregious,” she said at a news conference. 

More on the charges: Prosecutor files manslaughter charges against parents of suspect in Michigan school shooting

Bringing charges in a high-profile case could be seen as a deterrent factor for parents to better secure their firearms and prevent future school shootings, said Kris Brown, a lawyer and president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. 

But how often parents are charged is unknown due to a lack of data, said Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

She cited the fact that not all school shootings are as widely reported and there’s a lack of national research.

Still, mass shootings at schools are extremely rare to begin with. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, 99% of gun deaths in the U.S. are from shootings other than mass shootingsThat means the number of cases in which parents could be prosecuted for them is also small, Anderman said.

“We do not know that prosecutors wouldn’t react the exact same way if this happened somewhere else. I think a more pertinent question is, ‘Will this prompt lawmakers to pass actual child access prevention laws or safe storage laws?’ or, ‘Will people change their behavior with regards to storing their firearms?'” she told USA TODAY. 

There is no federal law addressing child access to guns, and state laws have a wide range of criminal liability, according to the Giffords Law Center.

The suspect’s parents were not charged with any firearm violations as of Friday. 

Michigan school shooting suspect faces life in prison: What murder, terrorism charges mean

Meanwhile, Michigan does not have strict child access prevention laws, such as other states like California, Brown said. 

In California, the negligent storage of a firearm is a crime if the person knows or reasonably should know a child could likely access it without permission, according to Giffords. Such laws can also help reduce the rate of unintentional discharges of firearms in the home or suicide by a firearm, Brown said.

Laws in Michigan are less clear. One law would hold someone liable if they allowed a firearm under their “immediate control” to be used to kill or injure someone. But the “immediate control” provision complicates whether that statute could be used in a school shooting case, Anderman said.

Another law would hold a parent liable if their child violated a state firearm law while on school property, but only if the parent knew the child would commit the violation or furthered the violation, Anderman added.

“Michigan’s laws are woefully inadequate,” McDonald said Friday, citing a lack of safe storage laws. “We don’t have strong enough laws.”

‘Who can we hold accountable for mass violence?’

Prosecuting the parents, Brown said, shows a shifting blame in society and highlights what she called “a failure” to pass stricter federal gun laws, including being able to hold gun manufacturers liable.

In bringing the charges, prosecutors are in a sense figuring out, “who can we hold accountable for mass violence?'” Brown said.

“The prosecutor has to believe that juries will accept that gun violence is so common in our country, that school shootings are so common in our country, that the failure to safely store your gun is tantamount to rendering a potential death sentence to others if a child finds that gun.”

In 2018, the Washington Post found that 80% of weapons in school shootings, where the source of the weapon was identified, were taken from home or from a relative or friend. But only four adults, out of 105 cases, were convicted and punished for the shooters’ access to firearms, the Post reported.

In one such case, in 2000 in Michigan, a 6-year-old boy killed a classmate with a handgun he found stored in a shoebox at his uncle’s house. A man living at the house who possessed the gun was charged with involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to more than two years in prison.

In the Michigan case, the Crumbleys face up to 15 years in prison.

Brown said that case could be a strong precedent for charges in the Oxford shooting.

“If it’s reasonably foreseeable that a visitor will enter your home and take your loaded gun from a shoebox, then it’s absolutely foreseeable that you’re very troubled teenager who … said they wanted to do things to classmates is going to probably use your loaded gun,” she said.

What we know about the firearm in the Oxford High School shooting

McDonald said the 15-year-old was present Nov. 26 when his father purchased the 9mm Sig Sauer SP 2022 handgun used during the shooting as a Christmas gift. The suspect also posted images of the firearm online, calling it his “new beauty,” she added.

His mother posted online about “testing out” the gift, too, she said. When the suspect was caught in class researching ammunition online, his mother texted him, “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught,” McDonald said.

“Clearly based on the statements of the shooter (and) the statements of mom, that was his gun,” McDonald said.

McDonald said the suspect made a disturbing drawing on the day of the shooting, which prompted his parents to be called to school. After speaking with a counselor, the suspect was allowed to return to class and his parents did not ask him about the whereabouts of the firearm, she said.

“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,” McDonald said Friday.

More: Why prosecutors charged Oxford school shooting suspect’s parents

Past cases show both some parents charged, legal quirks

In some cases, quirks in state laws have hampered prosecutors’ efforts to charge parents: in Texas, a 17-year-old used his parents’ firearms to kill eight students and two teachers in 2018, but his parents couldn’t be charged under state law because the son was 17.

In a handful of others, parents of school shooters have been charged: in 2020, Richmond mother Mary York pled guilty to four felony counts of neglect of a dependent and was sentenced to probation after her 14-year-old son shot his way into his middle school through a glass exterior door before shooting himself.

Two parents were charged in 2019 with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a fourth-degree felony, after their teenage son shot a gun inside his New Mexico high school. Authorities alleged the parents knew their son had threatened to shoot up the school and failed to secure their firearm.

In another instance, Raymond Lee Fryberg Jr. was sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted of gun crimes related to the .40-caliber Beretta his son used to kill four classmates and himself in 2014. However, the Washington father was charged because he was the subject of a domestic violence protection order that prevented him from owning firearms.

The Oxford High School shooting is the latest — and deadliest — of at least 28 school shootings in 2021, according to Education Week.

Contributing: Mike Emery, The Palladium-Item; Dave Boucher and Darcie Moran, Detroit Free Press

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