US Marshals join Oakland Co. fugitive team in search for Oxford suspect's parents; rewards offered
Pontiac — The U.S. Marshals and the Oakland County Fugitive Apprehension Team searched Friday night for the parents of Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old Oxford High sophomore charged with first-degree murder in the slayings of four students in Tuesday's mass shooting.
The search came hours after James and Jennifer Crumbley of Oxford were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of those four students by Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, who announced the charges at a noon press conference.
At one point Friday, authorities say each parent had stopped responding to their attorneys.
"The action of fleeing and ignoring their attorney certainly adds weight to the
charges," Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said in a statement. "They cannot run from their part in this tragedy.”
By late Friday night, U.S. Marshals announced a reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to their arrests.
Several hours after the search began, the couple's lawyers, Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman, said the husband and wife were returning to the area to be arraigned.
"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," Smith and Lehman told The Detroit News at mid-afternoon Friday. "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."
But by Friday evening, federal marshals said they had "adopted the case of the search for James and Jennifer Crumbley" and would be working in conjunction with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
The Crumbleys' 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 sightings of the Crumbleys.
“Their attorney had assured us that if a decision was made to charge them, she would produce them for arrest,” Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe said earlier 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 with the license plate DZH8994, according to the sheriff's office and Secretary of State records.
McCabe said a conversation with law enforcement 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's office didn't respond to a request for comment. But the prosecutor defended how the charges were pursued during a CNN Friday night interview.
“The prosecutor’s office doesn’t arrest people,” McDonald told CNN host Anderson Cooper.
A day and a half before the press conference, McDonald said she asked an assistant prosecutor if police had “eyes” on the parental suspects. She said she was told police knew where the Crumbleys were.
“They will be apprehended, one way or another,” McDonald said.
Late Friday night, McCabe pushed back against the prosecutor's claims. McCabe said his office was not contacted by an assistant prosecutor about, and at no time did the department indicate to prosecutors that "eyes" on the Crumbleys.
The prosecutor earlier 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 clients who did 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.