Pontiac — The lawyers for the parents of the Oxford High teenager charged in Tuesday’s school shooting said Friday that James and Jennifer Crumbley are returning to the area to be arraigned on charges of involuntary manslaughter.
The Oakland County Fugitive Apprehension Team was searching Friday for the parents of Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old Oxford High sophomore charged with first-degree murder of four students and other criminal charges, after county Undersheriff Mike McCabe said the couple had stopped responding to their attorney.
“On Thursday night, we contacted the Oakland County prosecutor to discuss this matter and to advise her that James and Jennifer Crumbley would be turning themselves in to be arraigned,” lawyers Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman told The Detroit News. “Instead of communicating with us, the prosecutor held a press conference to announce charges.”
“The Crumbleys left town on the night of the tragic shooting for their own safety. They are returning to the area to be arraigned. They are not fleeing from law enforcement despite recent comments in media reports.”
James and Jennifer Crumbley of Oxford were named in criminal warrants Friday, with each being charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of four Oxford High School students who were allegedly slain by their son. They also were named in a noon press conference held by Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald to announce the charges.
Their case is charged in 52-3 District Court in Rochester Hills, and an arraignment was tentatively set for 4 p.m. Friday. But the court closed late Friday afternoon without any sighting of the Crumbleys.
“Their attorney had assured us that if a decision was made to charge them, she would produce them for arrest,” McCabe said Friday.
That agreement with attorney Smith was sometime in the morning, McCabe said around 2 p.m. Friday.
“Our last conversation with the attorney was that she had been trying to reach them by phone and text, and they were not responding,” he said.
McCabe said Fugitive Apprehension Team officers were out searching for the couple as of mid-afternoon Friday. The Crumbleys own a 2021 black Kia Seltos with the license plate DQG5203 and a 2019 white Kia Soul Station Wagon with the license plate DZH8994, according to the sheriff’s office and Secretary of State records.
McCabe said a conversation was initiated by the parents’ attorney Friday morning when it was announced the prosecutor was holding a press conference to announce whether a decision had been made to charge anyone else in the deaths.
“We didn’t even know they had been charged with anything until we were informed this morning by the media,” McCabe said.
McDonald laid out numerous reasons for her decision, including the father’s purchase of the handgun, which was a Christmas gift for their son, and a meeting at the school in which they were shown a graphic drawing made by their son depicting a shooting victim. Each count is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
“I have spoken to (victims’ parents) and indicated what charges were coming,” McDonald said at her Friday noon press conference. “These parents are deep in grief.
“I have tremendous compassion and empathy for parents with children who are struggling, for whatever reason,” she added. “But the facts in this case are so egregious. The notion that a parent could read those words, and also know their son had access to a deadly weapon.”
The Crumbleys’ son, Ethan, has been charged as an adult with one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He faces up to life in prison without parole if convicted.
Scott Weinberg, a former Macomb County assistant prosecutor and a longtime Oakland County defense attorney, said Friday that “attorneys have just so much power” and cannot compel the presence of a client.
“As an attorney, you’re their adviser,” Weinberg said, “not their keeper.”
“Sometimes, people get scared,” he added. “They begin to wrap up personal affairs, they pay the mortgage, just so they don’t have to do it from jail.”
Arrangements for clients to turn themselves in make sense both for police, who can avoid a manhunt, and for the suspect, Weinberg said. Clients who turn themselves in willingly might get a favorable bond at their arraignment, he said.
“When and if they are picked up now, it’ll be hard to make that argument with a judge,” Weinberg said. “They might not get the reasonable bond they could’ve gotten.”
Weinberg has had his own clients not show up to surrender themselves.
“That happens all the time,” Weinberg said.
William Winters, a 38-year veteran defense attorney in Detroit, said such arrangements are “not generally” made in homicide cases.
Police usually want a time and location, either at the police station or the courthouse,” when suspects surrender, Winters said.
A defense attorney “can’t” know if their client will honor the arrangement, he said.
“I’d want to be with the defendant in that case,” Winters said, to ensure a safe arrest.
Staff Writer Robert Snell contributed.