Parents of teen accused in Michigan school shooting plead not guilty to manslaughter charges

The parents of a Michigan teen charged with killing four students at Oxford High School pleaded not guilty on Saturday to involuntary manslaughter charges, hours after police said they were caught hiding in a commercial building.

Combined bond for Jennifer and James Crumbley set at $1 million US

Parents of accused Michigan school shooter arrested

7 months ago
Duration 2:00
The parents of a Michigan teenager accused of killing four schoolmates have been arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter, raising questions about who can be charged after a mass shooting.

A judge imposed a combined $1 million US bond Saturday for the parents of the Michigan teen charged with killing four students at Oxford High School, hours after police said they were caught hiding in a Detroit commercial building.

James and Jennifer Crumbley entered not guilty pleas to each of the four involuntary manslaughter counts against them during a court appearance held on Zoom.

Jennifer Crumbley sobbed and struggled to respond to the judge's questions at times and James Crumbley shook his head when a prosecutor said their son had full access to the gun used in the killings.

This image shows Jennifer Crumbley in a video call set up by an Oakland County court in Michigan on Saturday. (52-1 District Court/The Associated Press)

Judge Julie Nicholson assigned bond of $500,000 US to each of the parents and required GPS monitoring if they pay to be released, agreeing with prosecutors that they posed a flight risk.

Defence attorneys for the Crumbleys argued Saturday that their clients never intended to flee and had made plans to meet their lawyers early that morning. Attorney Shannon Smith accused prosecutors of "cherry picking" facts to release publicly, including the accusation that their teenage son had unrestricted access to the handgun prosecutors say his father purchased for him days before the shooting.

WATCH | Parents enter not-guilty pleas:

Parents of Michigan teen plead not guilty during online court appearance

7 months ago
Duration 3:40
The parents of a Michigan teen charged with killing four students at Oxford High School pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges.

"Our clients are just as devastated as everyone else," Smith said. The gun "was locked," she said, but didn't provide more detail during Saturday's hearing.

'Egregious' acts

The office of Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald filed involuntary manslaughter charges against the Crumbleys on Friday, accusing them of failing to intervene on the day of the tragedy despite being confronted with a drawing and chilling message — "blood everywhere" — that was found at the boy's desk. They could each face up to 15 years in prison, according to a spokesperson for McDonald's office.

The Crumbleys committed "egregious" acts, from buying a gun on Black Friday and making it available to their son to resisting his removal from school when they were summoned a few hours before the shooting, McDonald said Friday.

WATCH | Prosecutors charge parents of accused Michigan school shooter:

U.S. prosecutors charge parents of accused Michigan school shooter

7 months ago
Duration 2:41
The parents of the accused Michigan school shooter have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, with prosecutors alleging they were negligent and contributed to the deaths of four students.

Authorities had been looking for the couple since Friday afternoon. Late Friday, U.S. Marshals announced a reward of up to $10,000 US each for information leading to their arrests.

Smith, the Crumbleys' attorney, had said Friday that the pair left town earlier in the week "for their own safety" and would be returning to Oxford to face charges.

During Saturday's hearing, Smith said they were in touch by phone and text on Friday evening and blamed prosecutors for failing to communicate with her and fellow defence attorney Mariell Lehman.

Misia Winowski, centre left, holds her 14-year-old daughter, Madolyne, close during a candlelight vigil on Friday night in downtown Oxford, Mich., to remember victims of Tuesday's school shooting. (Jake May/The Flint Journal/The Associated Press)

"Our clients were absolutely going to turn themselves in; it was just a matter of logistics," she said.

But McDonald said on Saturday that the couple took $4,000 US out of an ATM on Friday morning in Rochester Hills, not far from the courthouse where they should have appeared that afternoon.

"These are not people that we can be assured will return to court on their own," she said.

A Detroit business owner spotted a car tied to the Crumbleys in his parking lot late Friday, Oakland County undersheriff Michael McCabe said in a statement. A woman seen near the vehicle ran away when the business owner called 911, McCabe said. The couple was later located and arrested by Detroit police.

Detroit Police Chief James E. White said the couple "were aided in getting into the building," and that a person who helped them may also face charges.

On Friday, McDonald offered the most precise account so far of the events that led to the shooting at Oxford High School, roughly 50 kilometres north of Detroit.

Ethan Crumbley appears in a video arraignment in Rochester Hills, Mich., on Wednesday. Crumbley, 15, faces 24 charges, including murder, attempted murder and terrorism, for a shooting on Tuesday at Oxford High School in Michigan. (Paul Sancya/The Associated Press)

Investigators said Ethan Crumbley, 15, emerged from a bathroom with a gun and started shooting students in the hallway.

The teen is charged as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes.

Under Michigan law, the involuntary manslaughter charge filed against the parents in such cases can be pursued if authorities believe someone contributed to a situation where there was a high chance of harm or death.

Parents in the U.S. are rarely charged in school shootings involving their children, even as most minors get guns from a parent or relative's house, according to experts.