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Tragedy--and Accountability--in Michigan

TRAGEDY IN MICHIGAN

On Tuesday, November 30, 2021, yet another school shooting occurred, this time at a high school in Oxford, Michigan. This almost uniquely American phenomenon is tragically, unbelievably and mind-bogglingly so common that the news of these catastrophic incidents tends to follow a familiar pattern. But this school shooting was different in several ways.

THE FACTS

The alleged shooter, Ethan Crumbley, is only 15 years old. In a journal found after the horrific incident, Ethan wrote about his desire to shoot up the school, including his desire to murder fellow students. A search of his cell phone revealed two videos made by Ethan the night before the shooting in which he talked about shooting and killing students the next day. The weapon used was a 9mm Sig Sauer handgun purchased by Ethan’s father four days prior on Black Friday. Ethan supposedly posted pictures of himself target practicing with the new gun, and bragging about it online. The journal entries and videos, plus the target practice itself, are all evidence of premeditation.

THE CHARGES

Ethan is currently charged with 4 counts of first-degree murder; 7 counts of assault with intent to murder; 12 counts of possession of a firearm; and 1 count of terrorism. The latter—the terrorism charge—is unusual. When questioned about why this charge was brought, the Oakland County Prosecutor Ms. McDonald said she charged Ethan Crumbley with terrorism “for all the children at home who can’t eat, can’t sleep and can’t imagine a world where they ever step back in that school…[those] are victims too, and so are their families and the community, and the charge of terrorism reflects that.”

The charge of domestic terrorism—defined as an act by a citizen or permanent resident intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population—has been applied very rarely in the context of school shootings. Depending on the content of Ethan’s writings and videos, it might apply here; the Oakland County Sheriff has said in interviews that this evidence is “chilling.”

GEORGIA CHILD ACCESS PREVENTION (CAP) LAWS

The other unusual aspect of the criminal case is the fact that McDonald is openly considering bringing charges against Ethan’s parents. When asked about this, McDonald stated that owning a gun means: “securing it properly; locking it; keeping ammunition separate; and not allowing access to it by others, especially minors.” Ethan, a 15 year old, accessed the handgun and the ammunition on more than one occasion.

Ethan’s parents had been notified by teachers and staff at the school of troubling behavior by Ethan, and had been summoned to the high school for an in-person meeting with staff on the day of the shooting. In Georgia, the Crumbley’s knowledge of their son’s troubling behavior and his access to the gun might not rise to the level of criminal liability; Georgia law does not penalize a parent who negligently stores a firearm even if a minor gains access to it. However, Georgia prohibits parents and legal guardians from allowing persons under age 18 to possess a handgun. A parent or legal guardian of a minor is criminally liable if he or she knows of the minor’s unlawful possession of a handgun and fails to make reasonable efforts to prevent it. A separate provision of Georgia law prohibits any parent or legal guardian from intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly furnishing, or permitting a minor to possess, a handgun, if the parent or legal guardian is aware of a substantial risk that the minor will use the handgun to commit a felony. This criminal liability also attaches if the parent or legal guardian, who is aware of a substantial risk that the minor will use the handgun to commit a felony, fails to make reasonable efforts to prevent commission of the offense by the minor.

Again, the context of this case might make charges against Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley appropriate: (1) they had been notified regarding troubling behavior by their son at school on more than one occasion; (2) he was accessing a very recently purchased handgun to go target practicing; and (3) the fact that the shooting happened only 4 days after the purchase of the handgun at least suggests a relationship between access to the gun and the occurrence of the incident.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or someone you know has been injured by a minor who was in possession of a firearm unlawfully, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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