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Abby Zimet: Teach Your Children Well

Mugshots for James and Jennifer Crumbley. Photo from Oakland County Jail.


In Michigan, the freakish, all-American horror and anguish of the latest slaughter of children by children continues to unspool after the Oxford High School shooting, which left four dead and eight wounded. On Saturday, wayward parents James and Jennifer Crumbley were found hiding in an industrial building after going on the lam, charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter, and held on $1 million bail; if they manage to post bail, they will have to wear ankle monitors because, noted prosecutor Karen McDonald at their arraignment, “These are not people that we can be assured are going to return to court on their own.” These are also evidently not people you should trust to take care of your pet fish, or otherwise display the barest modicum of decency or smarts. Four days before the massacre, they bought their 15-year-old son Ethan an early (and, as a minor, illegal) Christmas present: a 9mm Sig Sauer handgun. Ethan went with James to buy it; he boasted about his “new beauty” on Instagram that night; the next day, his mom proudly posted a picture of the gun with, “Mom & son day testing out his new Xmas present.” Mom had already evinced she wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed: She had an arrest record for minor offenses – DUI, passing bad checks – and she wrote a gushing, rambling 2016 open letter to Trump for “making history,” though he “sucked at debating” – “I like that you have failed.” Declaring, “I have NEVER had this much belief in one person,” she hopes he’ll cure cancer – “You’re the one to do it” – and supports the wall but isn’t racist “because my grandfather came right off the boat in (sic) Italy…What makes me sick is people that come here from other countries and get free everything.” Thanking him for “my right to bear arms,” she signs off with, “A hard working Middle Class Law Abiding Citizen who is sick of getting fucked in the ass and would rather be grabbed by the pussy.” James chimed in on Facebook: “My wife can be spot on. Sometimes.”

Meanwhile, Ethan has been drowning in a sea of red flags. A couple of days before the shooting, a teacher found him searching for ammunition on his cell phone in class. She reported it; the school left two messages for Jennifer; she ignored them, but texted her son, “LOL, I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” The morning of the shooting, an  alarmed teacher found Ethan drawing a handgun with the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” Also a picture of a bullet with, “Blood everywhere,” and a body with, “My life is useless and the world is dead.” His parents were called into the principal’s office, shown the drawings, and told they had to get their son into counseling within 48 hours. Ethan was there, with his backpack; neither parent asked if he had the gun – which was in his backpack – or looked for it. The school asked them to take him home; they declined, and Ethan went back to class. Just after lunch, he went into a bathroom with his backpack, came out into a hallway, and began shooting. He killed four kids – Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana, Madisyn Baldwin, Justin Shilling – and wounded 8. After being taken alive (white), he was charged as an adult with 24 felony counts, including four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and one terrorism charge. He has pleaded not guilty. Police later found two videos he’d made and a journal, all helpfully detailing his desire to shoot and kill students. Karen McDonald: “This wasn’t even a close call.” After she announced Friday she was taking the rare step of charging his parents, they stopped responding to their lawyers, withdrew $4,000 from an ATM and vanished, prompting federal marshals to launch a manhunt. When someone spotted their car, police swarmed the building; once arrested, they were reportedly “distressed.”  Their defense attorneys Mariell Lehman and Shannon Smith – who represented former serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar – said that “contrary to the misinformation rampant in the media,” their clients fully intended to turn themselves in and “it was just a matter of logistics.” Now, the family logistics are simple: All three are in the same jail.

Because we live in a broken, bloodstained country poisoned by its own sick gun culture, over 60 schools shut down after receiving Crumbley-copycat threats. But most residents were traumatized, not titillated, by a massacre that felt like “an attack on the entire community.” Said Sheriff Michael Bouchard, “If you weren’t hit by a bullet, (it) doesn’t mean you weren’t terrorized that day and (won’t) have nightmares about it the rest of your life.” Given that reality, McDonald felt Ethan’s parents had to be charged to hold them accountable and “send a message gun owners have a responsiblity.” “I have tremendous compassion and empathy for parents who have children who are struggling,” she said, “but the facts of this case are so egregious…I expect parents (to) have humanity and step in and stop a potential tragedy.” Because they didn’t, the tight-knit community is reeling – grieving, coming together at multiple vigils, and struggling to process “unspeakable pain.” They’re also honoringthe dead. Neighbors tearfully recalled freshman Hana St. Juliana, 14, as “an amazing sweet kind soul, full of compassion…a wonderful representative of humanity.” Tate Myre, a 16-year-old football player and honor student, is viewed as a hero for rushing the shooter; there’s a petition to name the stadium for him. Madisyn Baldwin, 17, had been accepted at several colleges; for her funeral, her family asked for donations to “Autism Speaks.” Justin Shilling, 17, the last one to die, had also gotten into colleges while juggling three jobs. “His potential was boundless,” said his family, and having listed himself as an organ donor, “he continues to give of himself.” On Friday, hundreds took part in an honor walk, standing in silence outside the hospital as Justin’s family said their farewells and the surgery took place. In the crowd was senior Jaden Sweeney; his t-shirt quoted Psalm 31:9: “Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress.” “We’re here to bring light to Justin now,” he said, “to lift him up.”

Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet  has written CD’s Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women’s, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues

First published in Common Dreams.

2 comments on “Abby Zimet: Teach Your Children Well

  1. Sean Sexton
    December 7, 2021

    Staggering in its incisiveness and irony. What a world that is reported herein.

    Liked by 3 people

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