‘All kinds of red flags’ as parents of accused Michigan high school shooter are charged

There were dramatic twists and turns Friday in the aftermath of this week's shooting attack at a Michigan high school. The parents of the accused 15-year-old killer were charged with involuntary manslaughter and declared fugitives by authorities a short while later. Russ McNamara, host of "All Things Considered" for Detroit Public Radio, joins John Yang to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There have been some dramatic twists and turns today in Tuesday's shooting attack at a Michigan high school.

    James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of the accused 15-year-old killer, were charged with involuntary manslaughter this afternoon. Soon after, authorities in Oxford Township declared them fugitives and launched a manhunt.

    Still later, their attorney said they had left town for their own safety, but were returning to face arraignment.

    John Yang picks up the story from there.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, the Michigan prosecutor, Karen McDonald, says the charges against the parents stem from what she calls egregious acts.

    She says the father bought the gun used in the shooting last week for his son. On the morning of the shooting, the parents were called to the school to talk about violent images their son had.

  • Karen McDonald, Oakland County, Michigan, Prosecutor:

    James and Jennifer Crumbley were shown the drawing and were advised that they were required 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 for the presence of the gun, which he had with him.

    James and Jennifer Crumbley resisted the idea of them leaving the school at that time, of their son leaving the school at that time. Instead, James and Jennifer Crumbley left the high school without their son.

  • John Yang:

    The prosecutor also said that, the day before the shooting, a teacher reported that the accused was searching for ammunition on his phone.

    Russ McNamara is the senior news editor for Detroit's NPR station WDET.

    Russ, thanks for joining us.

    What's the latest, as we have heard that there was a question of whether the parents were going to turn themselves in. Are officials confident that they are going to turn themselves in now?

  • Russ McNamara, WDET:

    Well, I'm not exactly sure at this point, because their attorney, Shannon Smith, says, yes, they left town shortly after the shooting for their own safety and then were going to make their way back for the arraignment.

    But the arraignment was supposed to be at 4:00 p.m. today. Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard says the family is fleeing. The U.S. Marshals now within the last hour have said that they are now hunting for the couple as well, as well as a fugitive task force here in the city of Detroit.

    So, we still don't know where this family is.

  • John Yang:

    And whether they're going to show up.

    We also learned a lot from the prosecutor's news conference today. For instance, there's evidence she described that suggests that this gun was a Christmas present for this young man.

  • Russ McNamara:

    Yes, the child was there when the gun was purchased, and he essentially picked it out, and his father purchased it for him.

    Teenagers cannot own a handgun here in the state of Michigan. And so it would be a gift. And the kid took it to the range and tried it out over the weekend with his mom.

  • John Yang:

    And he also sort of showed it off on social media.

  • Russ McNamara:

    Yes, he did that as well.

    And he was very active on social media. And that was part of the case that Karen McDonald laid out today against the parents, that this kid had a thing for guns. Combine that with the violent imagery in the drawing and the fact that he was searching for ammunition in class at school, all kinds of red flags along the way for both school officials and his parents.

    They should have known something was going on, I would think.

  • John Yang:

    Russ, tell us more about that drawing. We learned details of the drawing and also the parents' reaction when the school tried to reach out to them to tell them they had found their son searching for ammunition in class.

  • Russ McNamara:

    Essentially, blood, stick figures and "Help me" in this drawing.

    And given the fact that he was just given a gun days before, the parents at that meeting on Tuesday morning saw no reason to take their kid out of school. The school recommended that the child need psychiatric help within the next 48 hours. The family opted not to do that.

    And so the child, there with the backpack in the room, the backpack was not searched. He goes back to class. And, later, the shooting happened.

  • John Yang:

    And the day before, a teacher spotted him searching for ammunition his phone. They reached out to the parents and what happened, or what didn't happen?

  • Russ McNamara:

    Well, the mom basically texted her son saying, LOL, I'm not mad just, don't get caught next time, which is, I don't know, kind of surprising, to say the least, that, given all of that information, the parents still decided to do nothing on Tuesday morning.

  • John Yang:

    And, Russ, as I understand it, the parents never responded to the school's calls and messages about this.

  • Russ McNamara:

    No, it wasn't until the second call that morning that they both went in and met with school officials and their son at the same time.

    And then, after the shooting happened, both parents texted their son and told him not to do it. The father went home and then called 911 after he realized that the gun was missing.

  • John Yang:

    Russ McNamara of NPR member station WDET in Detroit, thank you very much.

  • Russ McNamara:

    Thank you, John.

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