(MICHIGAN) — The parents charged in connection with this week’s deadly shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan each pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter Saturday in their first hearing since being taken into custody in the middle of the night while hiding in Detroit.
The couple was captured early Saturday following an hourslong search after they did not turn themselves in for their scheduled arraignment Friday afternoon, according to law enforcement officials.
The attorney for James and Jennifer Crumbley, who could be seen fighting back tears during the arraignment, had said Friday they were returning to town for their court date after detectives announced they were trying to locate the couple. But the duo remained missing late Friday and the U.S. Marshals Service joined in on the search.
The couple was caught by the Detroit Police Department when a business owner called 911 after spotting the suspects’ car in their parking lot and Jennifer Crumbley standing next to it, according to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office. She fled the area on foot, but the couple was located in a commercial building after an extensive search of the area. They were taken into custody “without incident,” Detroit Police Chief James White said at a 3 a.m. press conference, and were unarmed.
White said the duo was “aided in getting into the building” and some charges might be filed against the person who let them inside. He also said it was “very likely” they were trying to flee to Canada.
The Marshals Service had announced a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to their arrests.
At Saturday’s arraignment, the judge ordered they each be held on $500,000 with no 10% bond and will submit to drug testing and be fitted with a GPS monitor if they are able to meet bond. They were also asked to surrender any weapons to the sheriff’s office.
Shannon Smith, who is representing Jennifer Crumbley, repeatedly said her clients were not fleeing prosecution and planned to turn themselves in Saturday morning, a categorization that Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald disputed.
“While it’s human nature to want to find someone to blame or something to point to or something that gives us answers, the charges in this case are intended to make an example and send a message,” Smith and James Crumbley’s lawyer, Mariell Lehman, said in a statement Saturday. “The prosecution has very much cherry-picked and slanted specific facts to further their narrative to do that.”
McDonald recommended the $500,000 bond, saying, “These are not people that we can be assured will return to court on their own.”
The parents were each charged Friday with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Their son, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, allegedly used his father’s semi-automatic handgun in the Tuesday shooting that killed four and injured seven.
“They could have stopped it and they had every reason to know he was dangerous,” McDonald said during the hearing Saturday.
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said the Crumbleys’ attorney would make arrangements for their arrest if charges were issued, and when the warrants were issued Friday, “detectives immediately moved to arrest the couple,” the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said.
The attorney told police “she had made repeated attempts to reach them by phone and text without success,” the sheriff’s office said.
Bouchard said, “The action of fleeing and ignoring their attorney certainly adds weight to the charges. They cannot run from their part in this tragedy.”
The couple’s attorneys then said in a statement: “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.”
In a response to the statement by the attorneys for Jennifer and James Crumbley, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said it was not aware that the couple was returning to be arraigned.
“If they are, it’s news to us,” Undersheriff Mike McCabe told ABC News, saying authorities still don’t know where the couple is located.
McDonald confirmed Saturday that the couple had withdrawn $4,000 from an ATM in Rochester Hills on Friday morning before going missing.
Jennifer and James Crumbley are due back in court in Dec. 14.
Earlier on Friday, McDonald at a news conference outlined an alarming and violent note Ethan Crumbley allegedly drew hours before the shooting that prompted his parents to be called to the school. She also stressed the importance of responsible gun ownership.
“While the shooter was the one who entered the high school and pulled the trigger, there are other individuals who contributed to this, to the events on November 30, and it is my intention to hold them accountable,” McDonald said.
Ethan Crumbley was with his father when he bought the 9 mm Sig Sauer pistol on Nov. 26, McDonald said. The teen posted photos of the gun on social media, writing, “Just got my new beauty today,” she said. Jennifer Crumbley also posted online about testing the gun out with her son, McDonald said.
A teacher saw Ethan Crumbley researching ammunition in class days before the shooting, the prosecutor said. School officials contacted his parents, but they didn’t respond, McDonald said. However, according to the prosecutor, Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, writing, “lol, I’m not mad at you, you have to learn not to get caught.”
According to McDonald, the morning of Tuesday’s shooting, Ethan Crumbley’s teacher saw an alarming note on his desk. McDonald described the note as “a drawing of a semi-automatic handgun pointing at the words, ‘The thoughts won’t stop, help me.’ In another section of the note was a drawing of a bullet with the following words above that bullet, ‘Blood everywhere."”
“Between the drawing of the gun and the bullet is a drawing of a person who appears to have been shot twice and bleeding,” she said. “Below that figure is a drawing of a laughing emoji. Further down the drawing are the words, ‘My life is useless,’ and to the right of that are the words, ‘The world is dead."”
Ethan Crumbley was removed from the classroom and his parents were called to the school, McDonald said. By the time a counselor obtained the drawing, the teen had allegedly altered it, McDonald said.
“At the meeting, James and Jennifer Crumbley were shown the drawing and were advised that they were required to get their son into counseling within 48 hours,” she said. “Both James and Jennifer Crumbley failed to ask their son if he had his gun with him or where his gun was located and failed to inspect his backpack for the presence of the gun, which he had with him.”
The parents left school while Ethan Crumbley returned to class, likely with the gun in his backpack, McDonald said.
Once news broke of a shooting at the school, McDonald said Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, “Ethan, don’t do it.”
James Crumbley called 911 to report that a gun was missing from his house and said he believed his son may be the shooter, McDonald said.
Authorities determined James Crumbley’s semi-automatic handgun was stored unlocked in a drawer in his bedroom, McDonald said.
McDonald said involuntary manslaughter is “the strongest possible charge that we could prove” against the suspect’s parents.
“These charges are intended to hold the individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable and also send a message that gun owners have a responsibility. When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences,” she said.
Ethan Crumbley 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 11 counts of possession of a firearm in commission of a felony.
A judge entered a not guilty plea for Ethan Crumbley on Wednesday. His next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 13.
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