Four days before 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley allegedly opened fire at his Michigan high school, his parents bought him an unusually early Christmas gift: a 9mm Sig Sauer handgun.
The teen accompanied his father, James Crumbley, to buy the gun at Acme Shooting Goods in the small town of Oxford. Ethan referred it to that night on Instagram as his “new beauty.”
The next day, his mom, Jennifer Crumbley, who once posted an open letter thanking President-elect Donald Trump for protecting “my right to bear arms,” penned her own Instagram post. “Mom & son day testing out his new Xmas present,” she wrote, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said on Friday.
By Monday, however, Ethan’s new present, which was kept in an unsecured drawer in his parents’ bedroom, was already causing concern at Oxford High School.
A teacher found Ethan searching for ammunition on his cell phone during class and reported it to higher-ups. Administrators left a voicemail for Jennifer Crumbley and followed up with an email, but received no response.
“Lol, I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught,” Jennifer texted her son.
Conduct by James and Jennifer Crumbley before and after the shooting was “so egregious” that it warranted charging them with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, McDonald announced Friday in an extraordinary move that is a rarity in the U.S. legal system, which seldom holds parents of school shooters accountable for their child’s actions.
And in yet another bombshell twist, the Crumbleys were nowhere to be found after charges were laid, and a Be On the Look (BOLO) alert was issued on Friday afternoon. The Crumbleys were last seen by the public on Thursday when they tuned into their son’s virtual arraignment from a car. Police say they are driving a 2021 black Kia Seltos.
But while authorities—including the FBI and U.S. Marshalls—search for the couple, the Crumbleys’ lawyer Shannon Smith, insists they’re not on the lam but “left town on the night of the tragic shooting for their own safety.”
“They are returning to the area to be arraigned. They are not fleeing from law enforcement despite recent comments in media reports,” Smith, who previously represented former Olympic physician Larry Nassar, told The Daily Beast on Friday. Smith, however, did not respond to questions about the last time she spoke to her clients.
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said he was dismayed local authorities were not informed of the charging decision against the Crumbleys until the media started reporting on it. Bouchard told MSNBC that his office immediately called Smith, who said she would arrange for the couple’s arrest—but later told him they weren’t responding to calls or text messages.
“It’s just a bit frustrating that it’s played out in this manner,” Bouchard said.
Charges were filed, in part, to “send a message that gun owners have a responsibility,” McDonald said Friday. “Four kids were murdered and seven more injured. So yes, I think we should all be very angry and we should take a very hard look at what is in place in terms of criminal responsibility and what gun owners are required to do.”
On the morning of the shooting on Tuesday, a teacher was “alarmed” at a drawing made by Ethan. It included a handgun with the text, “the thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” and a bullet with the words, “blood everywhere.” There were also some laughing emojis, a person who’d been shot, and the words, “my life is useless,” and “the world is dead,” McDonald said.
The drawing prompted staff to remove Ethan from class, and his parents were called into the school. James and Jennifer were shown the drawing and told they had to “get their son into counseling within 48 hours.”
“Both James and Jennifer Crumbley failed to ask their son if he had his gun with him or where his gun was located and failed to inspect his backpack,” McDonald said.
They resisted taking Ethan home with them and left the school soon after, she said. Ethan returned to class with the handgun in his backpack.
“The notion that a parent could read those words [in the drawing] and also know that their son had access to a deadly weapon that they gave him is unconscionable. And I think it’s criminal,” McDonald said.
Acme Shooting Goods declined The Daily Beast’s request for comment on Friday. Multiple attempts to contact the Crumbleys were unsuccessful.
Involuntary manslaughter was “the strongest possible charge that we could prove and that there’s probable cause to charge,” said McDonald.
Ethan has been charged as an adult with one count of terrorism, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm.
At Crumbley’s arraignment on Wednesday, Oakland County Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Willis said police seized “two separate videos recovered from Ethan’s cellphone made by him the night before the incident, wherein he talked about shooting and killing students the next day at Oxford High School.”
Willis also told the judge that investigators discovered a journal in Ethan’s backpack, “detailing his desire to shoot up the school, to include murdering students.” Social media accounts showed Ethan practicing with a Sig Sauer handgun identical to the one used in the shooting, Willis told District Court Judge Nancy Carniak.
One Oxford High mother, who did not wish to identify herself out of fear of retribution, told The Daily Beast that the Crumbleys “did not really engage with other parents at the high school.”
“When we found out that Ethan was the shooter, some of us came together and couldn’t even remember too much about his parents. Which is weird because this is such a tight-knit place—and they just weren’t involved,” the parent added.
The day after James Crumbley bought the weapon, a woman in Florida filed a complaint against him for thousands in unpaid child support, according to court records reviewed by The Daily Beast. Money has apparently been an issue in the Crumbley household for several years. Shortly after the 2016 election, Jennifer Crumbley posted a missive to Donald Trump in which she claimed she was skipping car insurance payments to hire a tutor for Ethan, blaming the “common core” curriculum mandated in schools. She seethed in the letter about schools where the “kids come from illegal immigrant parents” and “don’t care about learning.”
“As a female and a Realtor, thank you for allowing my right to bear arms,” Jennifer Crumbley wrote. “Allowing me to be protected if I show a home to someone with bad intentions. Thank you for respecting that Amendment.”
James Crumbley posted a link on Facebook to his wife’s screed, commenting, “My wife can be spot on. Sometimes.”
Charging the parents of a school shooter is highly unusual. One case involved the mom of an Indiana teen who in 2018 opened fire in his middle school and didn’t kill anyone but fatally shot himself after being cornered by police. His mother pleaded guilty last year to child neglect charges and was sentenced to 2.5 years probation. In Texas, the parents of a 17-year-old student who in 2018 killed eight classmates and two substitute teachers with a shotgun and pistol that reportedly belonged to his father, continue to battle lawsuits by victims’ relatives who allege the parents were aware of their son’s “dangerous propensities” but still allowed him access to guns.
There are no laws in Michigan requiring gun owners to lock up their weapons and keep them away from children.
“We have to prevent kids from getting their hands on guns in the first place, and that starts with secure gun storage. It’s every gun owner’s responsibility to store their guns locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, told The Daily Beast.
“We’ve seen far too many times what can happen when they don’t and there needs to be accountability—that includes both informing gun owners of their obligation and responsibility to securely store their guns, as well as passing and enforcing laws that hold gun owners accountable when they fail to do so.”
“If you weren’t hit by a bullet, [it] doesn’t mean you weren’t terrorized that day and will have nightmares about it the rest of your life, whether you’re a parent, a teacher, or a student,” Bouchard said at a press conference prior to charges being filed against the Crumbleys.
“Going through that building in the wee hours of this morning, looking at disarray in the classrooms and the backpacks strewn across the floor, that had to have been an absolutely terrorizing moment in anyone’s life,” he added. “I don’t care if you’re an adult or child.”
Ethan Crumbley has pleaded not guilty, and was transferred from a juvenile lockup to the Oakland County Jail, where authorities say he is under suicide watch. He is due back in court on Dec. 13.