Prosecutor wants accused Oxford shooter's name excluded from court filings, hearings

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac – The Oakland County prosecutor wants the name of the accused Oxford High School shooter removed wherever possible from court filings and for participants in hearings to refrain from saying his name, according to court records.

Ethan Crumbley, 15, of Oxford is charged with killing four fellow students and wounding five students and a teacher in the Nov. 30 rampage at the school. His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, are charged with involuntary manslaughter connected to the shooting.

Prosecutor Karen McDonald is expected to ask the judge presiding over his parents' case to rule on her "no notoriety" request next week. Prosecutors have referenced writings in his personal journal where he said he wanted to be known as responsible for one of the nation's worst school-shooting crimes so his name would live on.

“Shooters want to be famous,” said McDonald in a statement about her request. “It’s one of the key motivators for most shooters, and it was definitely a motivator for the Oxford shooter. He wanted to be famous, and he wanted to be remembered.

“What the experts tell us, and what more than a decade of data shows, is that making one shooter famous and repeating his name and constantly showing his picture will motivate future shooters,” McDonald said. “Each shooter wants to be as famous, or even more famous, than the last shooter. So when we repeat the Oxford shooter’s name and continuously publicize his photo, we’re contributing to future shootings.

“I’m not going to be a part of that,” McDonald continued. “That’s why we do not repeat the shooter’s name in court or in our briefs, and that’s why we are asking the court to order that this shooter’s name not be used in open court or in public filings.”

McDonald’s position is that there are other terms – including “Oxford couple's son,” “teenager” or simply “the shooter” – that can be used instead of his name. She believes excluding his name could deter other people with similar tendencies.

McDonald’s motion is scheduled to be heard Wednesday by Judge Cheryl Matthews, who is the judge in the related cases of James and Jennifer Crumbley.

It's not the first time the prosecutor's office has sought to limit conduct in court hearings on the case. In February, McDonald filed a motion asking the judge to restrict the couple's communications during court proceedings in their case. The couple had mouthed "I love you" and attempted other non-verbal communication, the prosecutor's office said. The judge, during later hearings, told both Crumbleys to refrain from such activity.

There has been a push in recent years for media outlets to avoid glorifying mass shooters.

“For the most part these shooters are cowards, living in their mommy’s basement and believe their acts will somehow bring them undeserved fame,” said Tom Teves, co-founder of an Arizona-based organization called No Notoriety. Its aim is to encourage the media and others not to provide mass shooters with any attention.

“Studies have been done on these people, and 98% said their greatest motivation was the attention they received by shedding blood. And the more the better.”

Teves knows the pain. His son was one of 12 people killed by a mass shooter in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater in 2012 while attempting to shield his girlfriend from harm.

“I think she (McDonald) is doing the right thing and wish more would,” said Teves. “But this is getting more attention. Reporters and publications are examining themselves and finding ways to tell the story without benefiting killers. Instead they focus on heroes, victims and survivors and their families.

“We aren’t trying to censor anyone,” he said. “Far from it. We just want to prevent this from happening to other people.”

He noted how Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, asked her country not to say the name of a person who killed 51 people at two Mosques in 2019. In an address to Parliament, she said “You will never hear me mention his name.”

When the shooter was sentenced to life in prison without parole, Arden noted he “had no fame or platform” and deserved his lifetime of silence.

James and Jennifer Crumbley have pretrial hearings Tuesday. The prosecutor's office has argued the couple did not provide school officials with information about their son’s state of mind, including hallucinations, or told them they had purchased a handgun as an early Christmas gift.

Ethan Crumbley has a review hearing scheduled Thursday on whether he should be moved to Children’s Village juvenile facility rather than be kept in isolation in the county jail. Judge Kwame Rowe had previously determined jail was appropriate but that decision must be reviewed every 30 days.

It’s unclear if Rowe, who recently ordered a forensic evaluation for the teen, will also be asked to exclude Ethan Crumbley’s name in open court or in public records. As of Friday, no such motion had been filed, according to court documents and his clerk.

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