I wanted to write something lighthearted about Christmastime today. But I’m going to have to put that on the back burner again. Right now, I want to respond to the horrific school shooting in Michigan and its aftermath. I have no words for how shamefully everyone involved in this story has behaved. I wish it were something out of a black comedy instead of real life.
Let me review what I’ve seen on the news so far. The information is coming in piecemeal, so it may well be inaccurate by the time you read it. But I think I’ve got it straight.
1. On Black Friday, Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley purchased a a 9mm Sig Sauer SP 2022 pistol for their fifteen-year-old son, Ethan, even though it’s illegal to purchase a pistol for a minor in Michigan and even though Ethan was struggling with his mental health. They boasted about the pistol on social media, calling it his “Christmas present,” and Ethan did too, calling it a “beauty.” They let him keep the gun unsecured in his bedroom.
2. The school told the Crumbleys they’d caught Ethan searching for ammunition online and told his parents they were concerned. Mrs. Crumbley texted Ethan that she wasn’t mad, and didn’t want him to “get caught.”
3. The school then found Ethan had drawn pictures of a gun shooting people dead, with a caption begging for help to “make the thoughts stop!” They called the Crumbleys for a family meeting. The school did not search Ethan’s backpack, which would have stopped the mass murder before it started because the gun was in his backpack at that moment.
4. At the family meeting, the Crumbleys said they didn’t want their son sent home from school just because he was threatening to kill people, and they didn’t tell anyone he had access to a gun.
5. The school officials meekly acquiesced and sent the boy back to class– again, without so much as checking the contents of his backpack or locker. They told the Crumbleys to get Ethan to a therapist “within 48 hours” even though I’m not aware of a single place in this country where it doesn’t take weeks to access mental healthcare unless you’re in crisis in the ER. The ER is exactly where Ethan should have gone, but he went back to class with his gun.
6. Ethan then proceeded to murder four people, wound I don’t know how many others, and traumatize the entire school, all within less than five minutes. He was arrested alive, somehow.
7. While he was shooting up the school, Mrs. Crumbley texted him asking him not to do it.
8. When Ethan was arrested, the Crumbleys told him not to talk to the police, and then they retained a lawyer. At some point after this, they went on the run.
9. I want you to look at Number 8 again for a moment. These people bought their mentally disturbed child a gun in defiance of the law, boasted about it, sent him to school even when the school asked in a milquetoast way that he not be there, and then they left their child in jail while they fled responsibility for their actions.
10. As far as I can tell, the media were informed that the Crumbleys would be prosecuted for manslaughter before anyone else was informed. I can scarcely believe that, but it’s what it looks like to me. It’s as if the authorities wanted Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley to get a nice long running start.
11. The sheriff claimed he had no idea that the Crumbleys were going to be charged with manslaughter. He sounded upset with the prosecutor.
12. The Crumbleys’ attorney insisted to the media that the Crumbleys weren’t on the lam from the law, they were just in hiding in fear for their lives. Meanwhile, the Crumbleys turned off their cell phones and withdrew $4000 from an ATM.
13. Moments after the attorney made this statement, the sheriff’s office and the US Marshalls announced that the Crumbleys were fugitives and they were searching for them. I certainly hope for that lawyer’s sake that they were well paid in advance.
14. Several schools in Michigan are now closed due to threats of copycat murders.
Remember back in 1999, when everyone lamented that if only they’d known that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had such terrible mental health struggles ahead of time, the Columbine Massacre would never have happened?
There have been at least 237 school shootings in the United States since the Columbine Massacre, and from this latest one it’s evident that we’ve learned nothing.
The parents and the school both knew ahead of time that their child was homicidal. Ethan begged for help in a note with an illustration of a gun shooting someone dead. Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley sound like fools who wouldn’t know responsibility if it hit them in the face. But there was also an entire high school involved that could have stopped the shooting. Someone from Oxford High could have called 911 when they saw the note and had Ethan taken to a hospital. And no, I don’t know or care in the least whether that was against school policy for some reason and they had to tell the parents first. Someone could have exercised common sense and done it anyway. Someone could have at minimum searched the desk, locker and backpack of the mentally disturbed teenage boy who’d boasted about his gun on social media and then begged for help before sending him back to class. Now Ethan is in prison, his parents are still at large, four people are dead and several more still in the hospital.
Meanwhile, every time I click on a news update about the Oxford High School shooting, I also get a side bar with a link to news about the massacre at the Waukesha Christmas parade, where a disturbed man ran over a marching band and a troop of dancing grandmothers, killing six. Darrell Brooks Junior had recently bailed himself out of jail where he was awaiting trial for deliberately running over the mother of his child. Brooks’s mother has written a letter to the media explaining that her son has mental health issues and couldn’t afford any treatment.
These two nightmare stories are running together in my mind.
They are running together with every other story I know of people in America who were desperate for mental healthcare and didn’t get it until it was too late. But they are also running together with stories of people who struggle with mental health issues and found themselves abused by caregivers; where harmless people in need of compassion and understanding were coerced into cruel dehumanizing treatment that made everything worse while other people who badly needed treatment get nothing. And yes, I’m also thinking about cases closer to home, like our neighbor’s struggles with psychosis and how we couldn’t get any protection from her abuse. All of these stories are twisting together. No one does what they’re supposed to do.
America is broken.
We are completely broken.
The way we respond to mental health is just a microcosm of how broken we are.
The events in Oxford are a textbook illustration of the way we respond to mental health.
We never were very good, but I don’t think I can really express how terribly bad we are.
And I don’t see how we can fix it when so many people who ought to care so obviously don’t.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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