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Parents of the Michigan school shooting suspect charged with involuntary manslaughter

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A judge has set a bond of $1/2 million each for James and Jennifer Crumbley. They are the parents of 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, who is accused of killing four classmates and wounding seven other people in a school shooting this week in the small town of Oxford, Mich. Officials say that his parents enabled their son to go on that rampage, and both parents are now charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Neither parent appeared in court for a scheduled arraignment on Friday. Police arrested them in Detroit early today. The couple has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Quinn Klinefelter of member station WDET is covering this story. Quinn, thanks for being with us.

QUINN KLINEFELTER, BYLINE: Thank you.

SIMON: How were the parents taken into custody?

KLINEFELTER: Their lawyer had said they left town earlier in the week for their own safety and planned to turn themselves in. But early this morning, Detroit Police Chief James White says the police got a tip that the two were in a commercial building in Detroit. They surrounded the building and moved in.

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JAMES WHITE: We were able to take them into custody without incident. However, they were very distressed as they were walking out.

KLINEFELTER: The chief says that they were not armed, and they did not resist.

SIMON: What are the parents accused of doing for which the prosecutors consider them to be part of the crime?

KLINEFELTER: Well, it's equal parts action and inaction. Law enforcement officials say Crumbley's father allegedly bought the murder weapon as a Christmas present for his son only days before the shooting. The teen supposedly showed it off over social media, and the father kept it unlocked in a bedroom drawer, which allowed easy access to it. The day before the shooting, prosecutors say that a teacher saw the teen searching for ammunition on his phone. The mother was contacted, and then she told her son in a text message, LOL. I'm not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught. And then Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald says on the day of the shooting, school officials brought the parents in to examine a note that their son had written, which ended with the words, my life is useless.

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KAREN MCDONALD: A drawing of a semiautomatic handgun pointing at the words, quote, "the thoughts won't stop. Help me," end quote. In another section of the note was a drawing of a bullet with the following words above that bullet, quote, "blood everywhere," end quote. Between the drawing of the gun and the bullet is a drawing of a person who appears to have been shot twice and bleeding.

SIMON: Quinn, you can certainly understand why the school would be alarmed on seeing such a note from a student. What did the parents do?

KLINEFELTER: Nothing, according to the prosecutor. She says there were steps that could have been taken. Remember; this was a short time before the shooting began. And yet McDonald says the parents refused to act.

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MCDONALD: 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 for the presence of the gun which he had with him. James and Jennifer Crumbley resisted the idea of their son leaving the school at that time. Instead, James and Jennifer Crumbley left the high school without their son.

KLINEFELTER: The teenager was returned to class. Not long after, officials allege, he emerged from a school bathroom with a gun and began methodically firing down school hallways and into classrooms. The prosecutor says the parents' behavior goes way beyond mere negligence to the point where it is criminal behavior.

SIMON: Quinn, after all these signs, do officials say the parents did anything to try and stop a potential shooting?

KLINEFELTER: Prosecutor McDonald only notes an instance about an half-hour or so after sheriff's deputies had taken him into custody, when reports of the shooting began hitting the media.

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MCDONALD: When the news of the active shooter at Oxford High School had been made public, Jennifer Crumbley texted to her son, quote, "Ethan, don't do it." And James Crumbley called 911 reporting that a gun was missing from his house, and he believed his son may be the shooter.

KLINEFELTER: Now, Michigan does not have a law requiring gun owners to lock weapons away from minors, but adults have been prosecuted before in such circumstances.

SIMON: Quinn Klinefelter from WDET in Detroit - thanks so much, Quinn.

KLINEFELTER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.