Accountability for Accomplices

by The Cowl Editor on December 9, 2021


Accountability for Accomplices

Why Charges Against Oxford Shooter’s Parents Are Important

by Julia McCoy ’22

Earlier this semester I reflected on the Sandy Hook school shooting that took place on Dec. 14, 2012. Now, just days before the nine-year anniversary of that devastating moment in American history, the United States once again mourns the lives of innocent students. On Nov. 30, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, a student at Oxford High School in Michigan, opened fire and killed four of his peers, wounding several other students and faculty members. Students Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana, Madisyn Baldwin, and Justin Shilling all lost their lives. Justice must be served on their behalf. But, once again, America faces the question: how many lives need to be lost before the country starts to change its gun laws?

The posed question, unfortunately, goes nowhere. It has remained stagnant for decades. But, developments in the case of the Oxford High School shooting suggests accountability for more parties than just the suspected shooter.

Put in the most plain terms, Crumbley would not have had access to the semiautomatic handgun that he used in the shooting if it were not for his parents who purchased it for him. James and Jennifer Crumbley, Ethan’s parents, purchased the gun on Black Friday—Nov. 26—for Ethan and described it as a Christmas present in social media posts. The two enabled the teen by giving him easy access to the weapon and sensationalizing the deadly device as a Christmas present. 

The Oakland County prosecutor, Karen McDonald, discussed gun ownership in a press conference following the tragedy: “Gun ownership is a right. And with that right comes great responsibility.” She is absolutely correct. Whether you agree that American citizens should have easy access to guns or not, there is no question that gun ownership should be taken lightly. Nor is it something that should be entrusted to a 15-year-old as a Christmas present. Celebrating guns as novelty items undermines the danger that they present. 

McDonald charged both James and Jennifer Crumbley with four counts of involuntary manslaughter as they are responsible for their son possessing the weapon. She stated, “These charges are intended to hold individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable and also send a message that gun owners have a responsibility. When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences.”

In addition to providing their son access to deadly weapons, James and Jennifer Crumbley were also repeatedly made aware of their son’s mental health issues by the school. On Monday, Nov. 29, a teacher saw Ethan searching for ammunition online and left a voicemail for the teen’s parents. His mother’s response? “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” She had no issue with her son looking for ammunition during his class. She did not take the teacher seriously.

The next concern occurred on the same day as the shooting. That morning, a teacher found a drawing of a handgun, bullets, blood, and a laughing emoji alongside phrases like “blood everywhere;” “the thoughts won’t stop. Help me;” and “the world is dead.” School officials called the Crumbleys to the school and discussed seeking mental health help for their son. According to The New York Times, school counselors asked about the teen’s well-being and the Crumbleys confirmed their son’s statement that he was not a threat. They did not have to take their son out of class. No one thought to check if he had concealed a weapon in his backpack that day. There seemed to be no concern for their son even with ample evidence. 

In cases where minors are able to acquire guns with easy access, officials must consider how much accountability the suspect’s guardians have in the crime. In this case, the charges are certainly reasonable, as it is clear that the Crumbleys were given plenty of reasons and opportunities to talk to their son about gun responsibility and his mental health. And they did nothing. 

The deadlock of American gun reform unfortunately suggests that this is our reality for the foreseeable future. But, with accountability like we see here, there is at least an awareness of the magnitude of involvement and complicity in a mass shooting of this nature.