Million-dollar bond as US school shooter parents plead not guilty

James and Jennifer Crumbley have pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter over a school shooting in Michigan. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The parents of a 15-year-old who shot dead four students at a US high school with a gun bought by his father pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter on Saturday (Dec 4), as a Michigan judge set a combined million-dollar bond for their release.

James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley, were arrested overnight after police tracked them down in an industrial building in Detroit - 65km from the shooting in Oxford.

The pair were considered fugitives - having reportedly withdrawn US$4,000 (S$5,000) in cash and switched off their phones - although the Crumbleys' lawyers told the court their clients "were absolutely going to turn themselves in."

At their arraignment Judge Julie Nicholson set bond at US$500,000 for each of the pair, calling the charges "very, very serious" and saying "the court does have some concern about the flight risk."

Four students, aged 14 to 17, were killed in the Tuesday shooting at Oxford High School north of Detroit and six more were wounded, along with a teacher.

The couple's son Ethan has been charged as an adult with state murder and terror charges, while his parents each face four counts of involuntary manslaughter - each carrying a sentence of up to 15 years in jail.

In announcing charges against the boy's parents on Friday, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said the rare move was intended to "send the message" that gun owners have a responsibility.

The Crumbleys are accused not only of supplying their son with a weapon, but of ignoring escalating warnings that he appeared to be on the brink of violence - including on the day of the shooting.

Four days before the tragedy, James Crumbley bought the 9mm Sig Sauer semi-automatic handgun for his son, McDonald told the judge at Saturday's hearing.

His wife took their son to a shooting range the following day, posting on social media that she had bought a gun for her "baby" for Christmas, the prosecutor said.

"Instead of disclosing to the school that he had full access to this weapon, they chose not to," she said.

"They chose not to tell anybody that he might be dangerous, when it was clear, and they had every likelihood, that he was."

Gun purchase

While school shootings carried out by teens have become a sadly familiar part of life in the United States, it is highly unusual for parents to face charges.

Ethan was with his father at the time of the purchase at a local firearms store and the teen posted a picture of the gun on his Instagram account, writing "just got my new beauty today" along with a heart emoji.

But the Crumbleys' lawyer Shannon Smith told the judge it was "absolutely not true" that Ethan Crumbley had free access to a gun.

"Our clients are going to fight these charges," Smith said.

"Our clients are just as devastated as everyone else."

Ethan Crumbley, 15, is said to have used a gun bought by his father four days earlier to shoot dead four students at his high school, aged 14 to 17. PHOTO: REUTERS

According to police, Ethan Crumbley recorded a video on his cell phone the night before the attack saying he was planning a shooting at the school the next day, but it was not posted online.

That same day, a teacher observed Ethan Crumbley searching for ammunition on his cell phone during class.

His mother was contacted by the school but did not respond.

McDonald said Jennifer Crumbley did exchange a text message with her son that day, writing: "lol I'm not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught."

'Don't do it'

The Crumbleys were summoned to the school on the day of the shooting after a teacher was "alarmed" by a note she found on Ethan's desk, McDonald said.

The parents were shown the drawing and advised they needed to get the boy into counselling within 48 hours.

McDonald said they resisted taking their son home and he returned to class.

A memorial to the victims of the shooting is seen outside Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, on Dec 3, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

He later entered a bathroom, emerged with the gun, which he had concealed in his backpack, and opened fire.

Ethan Crumbley fired at least 30 rounds, reloading as fellow students fled.

McDonald said Jennifer Crumbley, when she heard about the shooting, had texted her son, saying: "Ethan don't do it."

And James Crumbley called the emergency line 911 to report that a gun was missing from his house and that he believed his son may be the shooter, McDonald said.

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