Michigan school shooting: prosecutor explains rare terrorism charge

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Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

A prosecutor in Michigan has explained why the teenage suspect in a deadly high school shooting this week was unusually charged with the crime of terrorism, along four first-degree murder counts and numerous other offenses.

Charges are also being considered against the shooter’s parents, prosecutor Karen McDonald said, which would be a rare move in cases of school shootings and would probably be linked to access to firearms.

McDonald, the Oakland county prosecutor, said 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, who is charged as an adult, had clearly set out to kill or injure as many people as he could during the rampage at Oxford high school in suburban Detroit that left four students dead and seven others, including a teacher, wounded.

“If that’s not terrorism, I don’t know what is,” McDonald told CNN, conceding “there is no playbook about how to prosecute a school shooting.”

Multiple videos from inside the school and other digital evidence, she said, gave investigators a clear picture of Crumbley emerging from a bathroom with a semi-automatic handgun and allegedly beginning to shoot multiple people.

“But you probably don’t even need to see that to know how terrifying it is to be in close proximity of another student shooting and killing fellow students. I mean, it’s terror,” she said.

“Like every other child that was in that building, and I address that about the terrorism charge, we must have an appropriate consequence that speaks for the victims that were not killed or injured but also, they were affected, how do they go back to school?”

McDonald said that as well as families grieving children, and others praying for those still in hospital, “over 1,000 were also victimized as well”.

Charges are also being considered against the shooter’s parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, the prosecutor has said. According to authorities, Crumbley’s father bought the 9mm Sig Sauer handgun only four days before the shooting, although it is not known how it came to the suspect’s possession.

Such a move would also be rare: according to a Washington Post analysis in March of school shootings, parents or guardians are rarely charged when their child takes and uses an improperly secured weapon. A study by the Giffords Law Center found that 21 states had no child-access prevention laws for guns.

Of the 105 school shootings since the 1999 Columbine high school massacre that the Post looked at, the weapon used was sourced to relatives or friends in 80% of the cases, yet only four adults faced charges for not locking them up securely.

“Those who do not do that should and will be held accountable,” McDonald said, indicating that charges could be imminent against the parents, who attended their son’s court arraignment on Wednesday via video link. “We have to do better,” McDonald added.

Authorities in Oxford, a township of about 22,000 residents north of downtown Detroit, revealed on Wednesday that the suspect’s parents were called to the school on the day of the shooting to discuss his “concerning behaviors” in the classroom.

Detectives are poring over evidence taken from the scene and the suspect’s home. According to Oakland sheriff’s lieutenant Tim Wills, speaking at the arraignment, that included “two separate videos recovered from Ethan’s cellphone made by him the night before the incident, wherein he talked about shooting and killing students the next day at Oxford high school.” The investigators also retrieved a journal in which Crumbley is said to have expressed an intention to massacre his classmates.

The victims of the shooting have been named as students Hana St Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling and Madisyn Baldwin, both 17.

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