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Michigan parents of Ethan Crumbley plead not guilty to manslaughter after school shooting

James and Jennifer Crumbley are caught hiding in the basement of a Detroit commercial building before entering not guilty pleas for involuntary manslaughter counts against them.

A judge imposed a combined $US1 million  ($1.4 million) bond for the parents of the Michigan teen charged with killing four students at Oxford High School, hours after police said they were caught hiding in a Detroit commercial building.

Key points:
  • Both parents entered not guilty pleas to each of the four involuntary manslaughter counts
  • The judge assigned a bond of $714,000 each and required GPS monitoring if they pay to be released
  • Ethan Crumbley is charged as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes

James and Jennifer Crumbley entered not guilty pleas to each of the four involuntary manslaughter counts against them during a hearing held on Zoom.

Jennifer Crumbley sobbed and struggled to respond to the judge's questions at times and James Crumbley shook his head when a prosecutor said their son had full access to the gun used in the killings.

Judge Julie Nicholson assigned bond of $714,000 to each of the parents and required GPS monitoring if they paid to be released, agreeing with prosecutors that they posed a flight risk.

Defence attorneys for the Crumbleys still argued on Saturday that they never intended to flee and had made plans to meet their lawyers early that morning.

Attorney Shannon Smith accused prosecutors of "cherry picking" facts to release publicly, including an accusation that their teenage son had unrestricted access to the handgun prosecutors say his father purchased for him days before the shooting.

"Our clients are just as devastated as everyone else,"  Ms Smith said, adding that the gun "was locked".

She didn't provide more detail during Saturday's hearing.

Participants in a court hearing on a Zoom video callParticipants in a court hearing on a Zoom video call
The judge assigned a bond of over $700,000 each.(AP: 52-1 District Court)

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald's office filed involuntary manslaughter charges against the Crumbleys on Friday, accusing them of failing to intervene on the day of the tragedy despite being confronted with a drawing and chilling message — "blood everywhere" — that was found at the boy's desk.

The Crumbleys committed "egregious" acts, from buying a gun on Black Friday and making it available to Ethan Crumbley, to resisting his removal from school when they were summoned a few hours before the shooting, Ms McDonald said on Friday.

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Authorities had been looking for the couple since Friday afternoon.

Late on Friday, US Marshals announced a reward of up to $US10,000 ($14,000) each for information leading to their arrests.

Ms Smith, the Crumbleys' attorney, had said on Friday that the pair left town earlier in the week "for their own safety" and would be returning to Oxford to face charges.

During Saturday's hearing, Ms Smith said they were in touch by phone and text on Friday evening and blamed prosecutors for failing to communicate with her and fellow defence attorney Mariell Lehman.

"Our clients were absolutely going to turn themselves in; it was just a matter of logistics," she said.

But Ms McDonald said on Saturday that the couple took $US4,000 ($5,700) out of an ATM on Friday morning in Rochester Hills, not far from the courthouse where they should have appeared that afternoon.

"These are not people that we can be assured will return to court on their own," she said.

Details become clearer

On Friday, Ms McDonald offered the most precise account so far of the events that led to the shooting at Oxford High School, roughly 50 kilometres north of Detroit.

Ethan Crumbley appears on a video arraignment at 52nd District Court.Ethan Crumbley appears on a video arraignment at 52nd District Court.
Ethan Crumbley (centre) is charged as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes(AP: Paul Sancya)

Ethan Crumbley, 15, emerged from a bathroom with a gun, shooting students in the hallway, investigators said.

He's charged as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes.

Under Michigan law, the involuntary manslaughter charge filed against the parents can be pursued if authorities believe someone contributed to a situation where there was a high chance of harm or death.

Parents in the US are rarely charged in school shootings involving their children, even as most minors get guns from a parent or relative's house, according to experts.

School officials became concerned about the younger Crumbley on Monday, a day before the shooting, when a teacher saw him searching for ammunition on his phone, Ms McDonald said.

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Jennifer Crumbley was contacted and subsequently told her son in a text message: "Lol. I'm not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught," according to the prosecutor.

On Tuesday, a teacher found a note on Ethan's desk and took a photo. It was a drawing of a gun pointing at the words, "The thoughts won't stop. Help me," Ms McDonald said.

There also was a drawing of a bullet, she said, with words above it: "Blood everywhere."

Between the gun and the bullet was a person who appeared to have been shot twice and is bleeding.

He also wrote, "My life is useless" and "The world is dead," according to the prosecutor.

The school quickly had a meeting with Ethan and his parents, who were told to get him into counselling within 48 hours, Ms McDonald said.

The Crumbleys failed to ask their son about the gun or check his backpack and "resisted the idea of their son leaving the school at that time," Ms McDonald said.

Instead, the teen returned to class and the shooting subsequently occurred.

AP

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