Oakland County, Mich., prosecutor Karen McDonald says she has received “pushback” from within her own office over the decision to charge the parents of the Oxford High School shooting suspect, but she feels the rare move is still the right thing to do.
James and Jennifer Crumbley were charged with involuntary manslaughter after their 15-year-old son, Ethan, was accused of the Nov. 30 shooting that left four students dead and six others and a teacher injured.
McDonald, who is the elected official in charge of the criminal case, told NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly that she approached it as both a prosecutor and a mother.
“I absolutely acknowledge that it hasn’t been done before, though I didn’t know that at the time, and … it wouldn’t have altered my decision,” she said. “I did receive pushback, but prosecutors don’t like to do things for the first time, and they also don’t like to do things that might result in a ‘not guilty.’
“But I wasn’t elected to do the safe thing, and this is just far beyond politics. To me, this was the right thing to do. I don’t think anyone looking at it, particularly what we know now — only some of which is public — could have decided to just allow those two individuals to move forward in their life and never have any consequences.”
The Crumbleys have pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Ethan Crumbley has been charged with terrorism and murder and has also pleaded not guilty.
McDonald said the investigation into the shooting had uncovered a number of details that she felt showed that the parents’ actions were “criminally negligent” and made the charges of involuntary manslaughter necessary.
She said Jennifer Crumbley “proudly” posted on social media just four days before the shooting that she had purchased a gun for her son as an early Christmas present.
She said both parents were also called to the school on the morning of the shooting to talk about “troubling writing” their son had been found with.
“Pictures of guns, pictures of someone being shot, words like ‘blood everywhere’,” McDonald said. “They were asked to take their son home, and they resisted. Both of them left, never told the school that he had full access to a weapon, which he clearly did.
“And then, when the news of the shooting occurred, Dad rushed home to look for the gun and, after not finding it, called 911 and said, essentially, ‘I think my son is the school shooter.’ “
“There were so many warning signs that he was potentially violent and would harm somebody, and these two individuals were the only people that had all of that knowledge and they did nothing.”
While McDonald said her focus was on the present case, she acknowledged that she wanted to see bigger steps taken to prevent the next school shooting.
McDonald’s dad was a hunter and she grew up with guns in her house. She said that she is not against people owning guns, but that “with that right comes responsibilities.”
McDonald also said she wanted to minimize the focus on the shooter and keep things like video footage of the event out of sight.
“The other thing we have to really look at here is not to make famous this individual that murdered people that day and not to release that video so that it can be seen by someone,” McDonald said.
“We have to make this so you gain no notoriety when you walk into a school and people’s lives.”
As her office has continued collecting evidence, McDonald has spent time talking to the parents of the victims.
She said it had been “one of the most difficult experiences of my entire career,” and as a mother herself, the case was personal.
“I’m angry that this is 2021 in the United States of America, and we still have school shootings,” McDonald said.
The audio version of this story was produced and edited by Gus Contreras and Mallory Yu.