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Parents of Michigan school shooting suspect saw warning signs, prosecutors say

A filing in defense of James and Jennifer Crumbley's bond amounts claims they tended to their horses as their son exhibited disturbing behavior.
James and Jennifer Crumbley appear in court Dec. 14, 2021, in Rochester Hills, Michigan, in the case of the deadly Oxford High School shooting.
James and Jennifer Crumbley appear in court Dec. 14, 2021, in Rochester Hills, Michigan, in the case of the deadly Oxford High School shooting.Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

The parents of the teenager charged with killing four classmates in Michigan last month ignored warning signs, including disturbing messages, and did not act, prosecutors said in a court filing Thursday.

James and Jennifer Crumbley are charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter for allegedly failing to intervene despite their child's expressions of violence. The were taken into custody Dec. 4 in Detroit and have pleaded not guilty. The couple is arguing their bond, set at $500,000 each, should be lowered.

Thursday's filing from the office of Oakland County Prosecutor Karen D. McDonald argued that that bond is "appropriate" because the couple tried to flee and were well aware of the shooting suspect's "warning signs," including animal torture, watching video of shootings and creating disturbing and violent drawings.

"These parents could have done something," the filing states, emphasis by prosecutors.

Attorneys for the Crumbleys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Dec. 5, attorneys Mariell Lehman and Shannon Smith said in a written announcement, "We will not be making any statements, participating in any interviews, or making further comments until we have more information."

In their filing seeking a reduced $100,000 bond for each parent, the attorneys said, "The Crumbleys, like every parent and community member, are devastated by the school shooting. The last thing they expected was that a school shooting would take place, or that their son would be responsible."

Prosecutors responded with a list of examples characterized as clear signs the alleged shooter was on the brink of violence.

The morning of the shooting, the teenage suspect was "seen watching violent videos of shootings," the filing said.

The filing also alleges the teenager had “tortured animals” and cited an occasion in which a baby bird’s head was discovered in a jar in his bedroom. The jar with the head was later found in a bathroom at Oxford High School, roughly 40 miles north of Detroit, where the shooting occurred Nov. 30, the filing states.

Prosecutors said the suspect "gave the clearest sign of all" that he intended to commit violence: a drawing of a gun and the words "the thoughts won't stop help me" and "blood everywhere" on what appears to be a school worksheet. The filing includes a photo of the worksheet, as well as a second photo where the gun and some of the words are scratched out.

School staff saw the paper the day of the shooting and informed the Crumbleys, who went to the school but did not take their son home, prosecutors said.

“Defendants failed to take even the simplest action that would have prevented the massacre,” prosecutors said in their filing Thursday. “All they had to do was tell the school that they recently purchased a gun for their son, ask him where the gun was, open his backpack, or just take him home.”

High school students Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17, were killed in the shooting. Seven others, including a teacher, were wounded.

The filing states that the parents were "focusing on themselves and their own issues" as the teen made “disturbing” statements, and his mood grew dark after his "only friend" moved, his dog died, and his mother and father allegedly endured relationship issues.

The couple, prosecutors said, instead spent three hours a day, three to four days a week taking care of horses in a barn.

"Instead of paying attention to their son and getting him help, they bought him a gun," the filing said, referencing what authorities have said about how the suspect got the handgun used in the attack.

The gun was kept in an “unlocked armoire cupboard,” the filing said.

Prosecutors also argued the Crumbleys are a clear flight risk. The filing alleged they had sold their horses, and were behind on their house payments and intended to put the house up for sale.

The couple's attorneys said earlier this month that the Crumbleys were going to turn themselves in after charges were filed against them Dec. 3, but authorities allege they fled instead.

They were arrested early the next day in Detroit, where police said they appeared to be hiding in a building. Thursday's filing alleges the duo had with them four cellphones and had withdrawn "a large sum of money" from their bank account.

Ethan Crumbley, 15, has been charged as an adult with four counts of first-degree murder, one count of terrorism causing death, seven counts of assault with intent to murder and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.