OXFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (NewsNation Now) — For the first time in history, the parents of an alleged school shooter might be charged in connection to their child’s alleged crime.
A prosecutor considering criminal charges against the parents of a boy accused of killing four students at a Michigan school said Thursday their actions went “far beyond negligence” and that the gun “seems to have been just freely available” to the teenager.
Ethan Crumbley, 15, was charged as an adult with two dozen crimes, including murder, attempted murder and terrorism for the shooting.
Crumbley’s father bought the 9 mm Sig Sauer gun believed to have been used in the shooting last week, according to the county sheriff.
“Because with the right to gun ownership also brings responsibilities and the details that surround the access to that gun by mom and dad will be released very soon,” McDonald said. “But yes, we’re considering very serious charges. It goes far beyond negligence of a parent, let me just put it that way.”
Legal analyst Karen Conti told “On Balance” that there are no laws in Michigan saying, “If you have children, you have to lock up your gun.”
Still, Conti believes the parents could be held responsible in some way.
“If the parents knew he was acting goofy, and he was posting stuff on social media, saying, ‘I’m going to kill students, and hey, by the way, here’s my dad’s handgun,’ well, then I think the parents are culpable in some way, whether that’s actually charging them for terrorism or charging them for some kind of accountability,” Conti said.
There’s no Michigan law that requires gun owners keep weapons locked away from children. William Swor, a defense lawyer who is not involved in the case, said charging the parents would require a “very fact-intensive investigation.”
“What did they know and when did they know it?” Swor said. “What advance information did they have about all these things? Did they know anything about his attitude, things of that nature. You’re talking about a very heavy burden to bring on the parents.”
Sheriff Mike Bouchard told reporters that Crumbley’s parents were called to the school Tuesday “for behavior in the classroom that was concerning.” The teen remained in school, and the shooting occurred a few hours later.
Conti says Michigan’s law is “really bizarre.”
“It says that if a child is under 18, a parent can be held liable criminally for a child’s actions if the child under 18 uses a gun at the school and if the parent knew the crime was going to be committed and did something to further the crime,” Conti said. “How are you going to prove these parents knew that this child was going to do it and did something to help the child do it?”
She says laws overall don’t provide much criminal liability for parents.
You can watch Karen’s interview with Leland in the video player below.
Investigators have not announced a motive for Tuesday’s shooting at Oxford High School, about 30 miles north of Detroit.
It was the deadliest school shooting since the Santa Fe, Texas, High School massacre in 2018, according to The Associated Press/USA TODAY/Northeastern University Mass Killings database. The U.S. has had 31 mass killings this year, of which 28 involved firearms.
In 2020, the mother of an Indiana teen was placed on probation for failing to remove guns from her home after her mentally ill son threatened to kill students. He fired shots inside his school in 2018. No one was injured but the boy killed himself.
In Texas, the parents of a student who was accused of killing 10 people at a school in 2018 have been sued over his access to guns.
Meanwhile, dozens of schools in southeastern Michigan canceled classes Thursday due to concerns about threatening messages on social media following the Oxford shooting. Some schools stayed open with a larger police presence.
Bouchard said no threats in Oakland County were found to be credible.
“If you’re making threats, we’re going to find you,” the sheriff said. “It is ridiculous you’re inflaming the fears of parents, teachers in the community in the midst of a real tragedy.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.