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Authorities probe the actions of the parents of accused Michigan school shooter

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The 15-year-old accused of opening fire in a Michigan school is not the only one to face criminal charges. If you followed the news over the weekend, you know that his parents are accused of involuntary manslaughter. Police found them inside a warehouse after they'd gone missing for some time. The Michigan attorney general now says her office may investigate how school officials handled several incidents involving the alleged gunman at Oxford High School outside of Detroit. Quinn Klinefelter of member station WDET in Detroit is following this story. He's on the line. Quinn, good morning.

QUINN KLINEFELTER, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are the questions about the school's role?

KLINEFELTER: Well, some parents and law enforcement officials wonder if the school should have made sure the suspect, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, never returned to class after he was summoned to the front office on the day of the shooting. The superintendent of Oxford Community Schools, Tim Throne, initially addressed the concerns in a video that was posted a few days afterwards from the shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM THRONE: You know, there's just - there's been a lot of talk about the student that was apprehended, that he was, you know, called up to the office and all that kind of stuff. No discipline was warranted. There are no discipline records at the high school.

INSKEEP: While he appears to be there defending the actions of school officials or the school officials' decisions not to make more severe action, why is the superintendent then calling for an independent investigation into what school officials did?

KLINEFELTER: Well, he wrote a public letter over the weekend that said he wanted a full and transparent accounting. The superintendent, as you say, is defending the actions of school officials. And remember; this is what officials have said happened. The day before the shooting, a teacher noticed a suspect looking up photos of ammunition on his cellphone during class, and the teacher reported that to school officials. Later that day, the teen told a counselor shooting sports were a hobby of his family.

Then the next day, the day of the shooting, something else happened. A different teacher found a drawing the suspect had done, a picture of a gun, a bullet and what appeared to be a person shot twice, along with phrases like blood everywhere and the thoughts won't stop, help me. The student was sent to the office. His parents were called. The boy told educators that the note was part of a video game he was designing and that he wanted to do that for a career. The school said he was calm, and he was worried about missing classroom assignments - started doing his homework while he's waiting for his parents to show up. When they arrive, the parents refuse to take their son home for the day, and school officials say he had no prior disciplinary history so they returned him to class.

INSKEEP: Such a horrifying story when we hear those details, knowing what happened a short time later. So what is it exactly that prosecutors have done to James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents?

KLINEFELTER: Well, they charged both with involuntary manslaughter, four counts of involuntary manslaughter, each because of the four students who lost their lives in the attack. The prosecutor says the parents should have known that their son was showing dangerous tendencies and that he had easy access to a 9mm handgun since they allegedly bought it for him as a Christmas present four days beforehand. The prosecutor says the parents' actions went far beyond mere negligence to becoming criminal behavior. The parents are in jail now. They missed a court arraignment, and they were arrested hours later after authorities said they were on the run. They're each being held on a half-million-dollar bond.

INSKEEP: We're going to talk a little bit more about the parents and the charges against the parents, but I want to get the facts on the table. What, according to prosecutors, shows the parents should have known? We have this information now. Apparently, teachers had this information. What did the parents have?

KLINEFELTER: Well, they were shown the pictures. They were told about the messages that he was looking up for the ammunition on his phone. They knew all of that. And they knew that he had a gun that he would have access to. And the prosecutor says that they never even checked his backpack that day of school to see if he had brought the gun with him. When they heard about the shooting, the mother texted the son and said, Ethan, don't do it, and the father called 911 and said his gun was missing and he was afraid his son might be the shooter.

INSKEEP: Quinn Klinefelter of WDET in Detroit. Thanks so much.

KLINEFELTER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.