OXFORD, Michigan—As a manhunt continued late Friday for the parents of a 15-year-old boy who allegedly used the gun his father bought him to murder several classmates, hundreds of people gathered in the center of the small town where it happened to pay tribute to the victims and try to make sense of the tragedy.
“I can’t understand why this would be a viable choice in a child’s mind. It’s hard to comprehend,” said one attendee, Mike, who graduated in 1999 from Oxford High School.
That is where police say Ethan Crumbley, a sophomore at the school, opened fire on classmates Tuesday, killing 16-year old Tate Myre, 17-year old Madisyn Baldwin, 14-year old Hana St. Juliana, and 17-year-old Justin Shilling. Several others were injured, including a teacher.
With Ethan Crumbley in police custody, attention has shifted to his parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, who vanished after they were charged with involuntary manslaughter on Friday for allegedly enabling their son’s attack.
Authorities say the parents not only purchased their son the gun he used to unleash terror and bloodshed on his classmates, but also allowed him access to it even after receiving warnings from the school about their son’s “alarming” behavior.
Many in attendance at the vigil on Friday night supported the charges against the parents.
“I think the parents should be held liable, absolutely. I think it’s the right decision. At least based on the facts I’ve heard,” Mike, the Oxford High alum, told The Daily Beast. “I think the first line of defense starts with the parents.”
He recalled being a high school senior when the massacre at Columbine happened.
“I would have never thought back then that this would happen. I thought that was one and done. I never thought it would be a trend.”
Deana Ottman, a resident of Oxford for the past decade, told The Daily Beast her niece was a high school senior attending Oxford High School, and was there on the day of the shooting.
“It was devastating,” she said.
The devastation was plain to see moments earlier, when a medical emergency within the huge crowd prompted fears of fresh violence. After someone fainted, leading others to scream for help, many attendees mistook the panic for a sign of another attack and fled the area.
“Everyone just panicked, they had just had this experience with a shooter,” Ottman said, describing it as a trauma response among an already on-edge community. She said her niece was one of the kids at the vigil who panicked at the commotion.
“She had a panic attack,” she said.
For her, the charges against the parents were needed, but they were another reminder of how many lives have been destroyed in the senseless violence.
“It’s a tragedy regardless. The parents were irresponsible. It’s a tragedy. Their 15-year-old son will be in prison for the rest of his life. It’s difficult because on the one hand I’m glad this is being prosecuted and his parents… but also it’s such a tragedy. It’s such a waste. And then the loss of life.”
“I’m sure they’re fearful of retaliation,” she said of the parents.
As of Friday night, James and Jennifer Crumbley had not yet turned themselves in to face the involuntary manslaughter charges, despite their lawyer insisting earlier in the day that they were “not fleeing” and were “returning to the area to be arraigned.”
Their whereabouts were unknown. An unnamed law enforcement official cited by CNN said police had managed to track their movements by their cell phone pings, but they had turned their phones off by Friday night—after withdrawing $4,000 from an ATM just a few minutes outside Oxford.
Many in the Oxford community were focusing all their energy not on those said to be responsible for the attack, however, but on holding up those who are grieving.
In addition to the vigil, community members also trekked 15 miles south to McClaren Hospital to support the family of 17-year-old Justin Shilling, the latest—and fourth —fatality from Tuesday’s shooting at Oxford High School.
The captain of the bowling team, Shilling was also an organ donor. Community members gathered in a show of support for the Shilling family, as the teen’s body was wheeled across the third floor for surgery.
“It means a great deal to them clearly,” said Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, addressing the grieving crowd of teens and their parents. “Thank you so much for being here on behalf of the family, they wanted me to pass that on.”
The crowd gathered for nearly an hour in almost complete silence. Hugs were exchanged. Sniffles could be heard. But the atmosphere was still and keenly focused on the third floor tunnel of the hospital.
At various points members of the Shilling party would walk to the window and wave. And the crowd, silently, would wave back.