Why Ethan Crumbley's Parents Face Manslaughter Charges When Only One Allegedly Bought Gun

On December 3, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald announced that James and Jennifer Crumbley would be charged with involuntary manslaughter in relation to the mass shooting their son, Ethan Crumbley, is accused of perpetrating.

Some people have questioned why Jennifer Crumbley received the same four counts of involuntary manslaughter as her husband when McDonald has stated the father bought the weapon for Ethan.

Former federal prosecutor and former elected state attorney Michael McAuliffe explained to Newsweek that the "mother allegedly knew of the weapon and her son's access to it and its status as a gift to him, among other evidence."

"The parents both were charged based on knowledge potentially attributable to each separately––some information might well apply to one parent and not the other," McAuliffe said.

Ethan Crumbley, their 15-year-old son, is the suspected gunman in the November 30 mass shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan. Four students were killed during the shooting, and six students and a teacher were wounded.

McDonald said the involuntary manslaughter charges against the couple were filed because they failed to intervene after seeing troubling evidence that their son could commit an act of violence.

police search home Andrzej Sikora Crumbleys shooter
James and Jennifer Crumbley received the same involuntary manslaughter charges, even though only James was allegedly present to buy the gun their son allegedly used during the mass shooting at Oxford High School. This composite image shows James Crumbley and his wife Jennifer Crumbley posing for mug shots in Pontiac, Michigan, on December 4, 2021. Oakland County Sheriff's Office/Getty

The prosecutor said James Crumbley took his son to purchase the gun allegedly used in the shooting on November 26. The teenager later posted photos of the weapon on social media. Jennifer Crumbley then took her son to a shooting range over the weekend, investigators said.

"I expect parents and everyone to have humanity and to step in and stop a potential tragedy," McDonald said when announcing the charges against the parents. "The conclusion I draw is that there was absolute reason to believe this individual was dangerous and disturbed."

McDonald cited "egregious" acts from Jennifer and James Crumbley, including not just buying the gun allegedly used in the shooting and allegedly keeping it in an unlocked drawer, but also not allowing Ethan to be removed from class when they were brought in for a meeting with school officials hours before the shooting.

Authorities had trouble locating Jennifer and James Crumbley after the charges were first announced, and "wanted" posters were issued by the U.S. Marshals Service before they were found in a commercial building in Detroit early on December 4. An attorney for the couple said they hadn't been on the run and had intended on turning themselves in to the police.

As for why they were charged with involuntary manslaughter rather than negligence, McAuliffe said that in "Michigan, involuntary manslaughter incorporates the concept of gross or criminal negligence as a possible basis for proving the intent requirement. Thus, the concept of criminal negligence is incorporated into the involuntary manslaughter charges against the parents."

McAuliffe acknowledged that charging parents for their child's actions is an unusual step. He said, "the prosecutor in the Oxford school shooting matter had the benefit of very specific information about the parents––their knowledge and their actions or lack of actions before the shooting attack."

"That information reportedly included giving their son access to a weapon even when aware of repeated and increasingly specific causes for concern over their son's risk for violence," he continued. "Charging the parents in that circumstance certainly makes a very public statement about potential accountability."

Julie Rendelman, a New York City-based defense attorney and former homicide prosecutor, told Newsweek that the purchase of the gun is only one component of the charges against the couple.

"The mother then goes with him to test out the gun days before the shooting. When the mother is told that Ethan is looking for ammunition on his cellphone, she sends him a text, telling him he has to 'learn to not get caught,'" Rendelman said.

The attorney also said the disturbing notes Ethan wrote that were shown to the parents should have tipped them off to the state of the boy's mental health.

"The parents refuse to take him from school and more importantly, make no mention that they just bought him a gun," Rendelman said.

Ethan Crumbley has been charged as an adult on 24 counts, including terrorism causing death and first-degree murder.

James and Jennifer Crumbley are scheduled to appear for a probable cause conference on Tuesday at 1:15 p.m.