By Brendan O’Brien and Joseph Ax
(Reuters) -Prosecutors on Friday charged the parents of a 15-year-old boy accused of murdering four students at his Michigan high school with involuntary manslaughter, saying the couple appear to have bought him the weapon as a Christmas present and ignored warning signs that he might be planning the rampage.
James and Jennifer Crumbley each face four counts and are expected to be arraigned later on Friday, three days after authorities say their son, Ethan, carried out the deadliest U.S. school shooting of 2021. He faces two dozen charges and is being held without bond.
“These charges are intended to hold the individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable and also send a message: that gun owners have a responsibility,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald told a news conference on Friday.
Four days before the shooting, Ethan accompanied his father to a local gun shop, where James Crumbley bought a semi-automatic handgun, prosecutors said.
Later that day, Ethan posted photos of the gun on social media, writing, “Just got my new beauty today” and adding a heart emoji. His mother posted the next day that the two of them were “testing out his new Christmas present,” McDonald said.
Prosecutors described several chilling warning signs in the days leading up to the shooting. On Nov. 21, a teacher saw Ethan Crumbley searching for ammunition on his phone during class and alerted school officials, who left messages for his mother that went unreturned.
In a text message to her son that day, Jennifer Crumbley wrote, “LOL, I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught,” prosecutors said.
The morning of the shooting, a teacher discovered a drawing that Ethan Crumbley had made depicting a handgun, a bullet, and a bleeding figure. The words “Blood everywhere” and “The thoughts won’t stop – help me” were also written on the sheet, among other messages, according to McDonald.
“It is impossible not to conclude that there is reason to believe he might hurt someone” based on the drawings, McDonald said.
James and Jennifer Crumbley were summoned to the school, where they were instructed to get Ethan into mental health counseling within 48 hours, McDonald said. They “resisted” the idea of taking their son home from school and did not search his backpack or ask him about the gun, she said.
When news of an active shooter at the school broke shortly after 1 p.m. EST, Jennifer Crumbley sent Ethan a text message, urging him, “Don’t do it,” according to prosecutors. A few minutes later, James Crumbley called police to report that the gun was missing and he believed his son might be the shooter.
The gun had been stored in an unlocked drawer in the parents’ bedroom, McDonald said.
It was not immediately clear whether James and Jennifer Crumbley had legal representation.
Parents are rarely charged in connection with children’s school shootings. Unlike some states, Michigan does not legally require gun owners to keep their firearms secured from children.
The attack is the latest in a decades-long string of mass shootings at U.S. schools.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien and Joseph Ax; Editing by Daniel Wallis)