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Parents of Michigan school shooting suspect are held on $500,000 bond after manhunt

James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of a teen accused of killing four students in a shooting at Oxford High School, pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges on Saturday. [Oakland County Sheriff's Office via AP]
James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of a teen accused of killing four students in a shooting at Oxford High School, pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges on Saturday.

Updated December 4, 2021 at 5:17 PM ET

After an hours-long manhunt led to their arrest overnight in Detroit, the parents of the 15-year-old boy accused of fatally shooting four students at a high school in Michigan have pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges connected to the deaths.

At an arraignment Saturday morning, lawyers for Jennifer and James Crumbley denied that the pair had fled law enforcement. Instead, they said, the couple had intended to voluntarily appear for arraignment Saturday — a characterization that Michigan authorities appeared skeptical of.

"This case is the saddest, most tragic, worst case imaginable. There is absolutely no doubt that our clients were going to turn themselves in, and it was just a matter of logistics," Shannon Smith, a lawyer representing the pair, said during the arraignment.

A judge has set their bond at $500,000 each. Both parents face four counts of involuntary manslaughter related to the mass shooting in Oxford, Mich., about 40 miles north of Detroit. Each count is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

James Crumbley, 45, repeatedly shook his head as prosecutors spoke, while Jennifer Crumbley, 43, began crying as the judge read aloud the manslaughter counts — one for each of the four students killed at Oxford High School.

"They are absolutely taking this case seriously. They are devastated by the events in the Oxford case," said Mariell Lehman, another defense attorney. "The facts are not what has been presented to the court and to the public."

Prosecutors urged the judge to set a high bond amount, arguing that the pair represented a flight risk after an afternoon spent evading law enforcement and withdrawing thousands of dollars in cash from an ATM.

"They sought multiple attempts to hide their location and were eventually tracked down after they parked their car somewhere a witness saw it," said Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald.

"These two individuals were found locked somewhere in a room, hiding. These are not people that we can be assured will return to court on their own," she said.

The Crumbleys joined the arraignment by videoconference from the Oakland County Jail, in their first public appearance since prosecutors announced the charges Friday at noon.

"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," said Lehman and Smith, in a statement sent to NPR just before the arraignment began. "The prosecution has very much cherry-picked and slanted specific facts to further their narrative to do that."

What prosecutors say about the parents' involvement

The Crumbleys were each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after the events of Nov. 30, when authorities say their 15-year-old son, Ethan, fatally shot four people, all fellow students, and wounded seven others.

In a news conference Friday, prosecutors said James Crumbley had purchased the gun used in the shooting, a Sig Sauer 9 mm pistol, on Black Friday as an early Christmas gift for his son.

Prosecutors said the Crumbleys stored the gun "unlocked in a drawer in their bedroom," a characterization that defense lawyers disputed Saturday.

After the purchase but before the shooting, school authorities twice raised concerns about Ethan Crumbley's behavior to his parents, prosecutors said, including in a meeting with them earlier that Tuesday.

But the Crumbleys refused to take their son home and did not ask him about the gun or inform the school that they had purchased one, according to prosecutors.

What authorities say about the manhunt

On Friday afternoon, law enforcement authorities in Michigan issued a statewide "be on the lookout" alert for the pair and their vehicles. The search included Oakland County sheriff's deputies, Detroit police, U.S. marshals, FBI officers and helicopter assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol, according to Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard.

Around 11 p.m. Friday, Detroit police received a tip that the Crumbleys' car had been spotted near a large commercial building on the east side of downtown Detroit, according to Detroit Police Chief James White. Authorities said the building was actively used as an art space.

Police searched the building and found the Crumbleys "hidden inside one of the rooms," White said.

Asked about the Crumbleys' lawyers' assertion that the couple planned to turn themselves in for an arraignment, Bouchard said their decision to spend the night in a warehouse in Detroit "raises my eyebrows."

"When we have serious charges like felonies — you can turn yourself in, you can go to court or come to any one of our substations — but we are going to go look for you immediately," he said. "We're not going to sit at the front desk and tap our fingers until they come in."

The pair were taken into custody overnight, joining their son in the Oakland County Jail, where they are being held separately.

"No talking, no communication. They are all three in isolation," Bouchard said.

Officials said that the three Crumbleys each passed an initial mental health screening upon booking, but that they had been placed on suicide watch as a precaution.

If released on bond, the Crumbley parents will be required to surrender all weapons to the Oakland County sheriff's office and wear a GPS device that will allow them to travel only to work, court hearings, medical appointments and attorney meetings.

Ethan Crumbley faces charges of terrorism, murder and assault with intent to murder. He was denied bail and pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Another person may face charges for helping the Crumbleys hide

Authorities say that the Crumbley parents were aided in entering the building in Detroit by a third party who "let them in," in the words of Detroit chief White.

An investigation is ongoing.

"We're gathering that information, and we're going to have the totality of that done fairly soon and will present that to our prosecutor for potential charges for either aiding and abetting or obstruction of justice," Bouchard said.

Authorities have not released any information about the suspect.

Bouchard said Saturday that officials are aware of a relationship between the suspect and the Crumbleys but were withholding that information from the public until the prosecutor announces a decision about charges.

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