Michigan school officials had legal grounds to search shooting suspect's backpack and locker but did not, prosecutor says

Ethan Crumbley, 15, is accused of fatally shooting four classmates and wounding several others at Oxford High School last Tuesday. His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the same incident.

Posted: Dec 6, 2021 12:55 PM

By Ralph Ellis, Travis Caldwell and Artemis Moshtaghian, CNN

(CNN) -- School officials in Michigan had legal grounds to search shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley's backpack and locker but did not do so, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald told CNN on Monday.

McDonald didn't say why such a search was not conducted, but noted, "We don't know exactly if that weapon was in his bag, where it was. We just know it was in the school and he had access to it."

When asked whether school staff members might be prosecuted, McDonald replied to CNN's Brianna Keilar, "We haven't ruled out charging anyone."

McDonald said the entire incident could have been prevented and that the suspect's parents are being criminally prosecuted because "we have to start addressing how somebody like (Ethan Crumbley) can so easily get their hands on a weapon and we have to hold the people responsible who allowed that to happen."

"I'm sympathetic to parents. My husband and I have raised five children," McDonald said, adding, "I'm certainly not suggesting that parents should be criminally prosecuted for any bad act of a child. But in this case, you can't possibly look at their actions and say that they didn't have reason to believe that there was real concern about a violent act."

Ethan Crumbley, 15, is accused of fatally shooting four classmates and wounding several others at Oxford High School last Tuesday. His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the same incident, CNN has reported. All three have pleaded not guilty.

On the day of the shooting, Crumbley's parents met with school officials after a teacher became concerned by some of the teen's drawings and statements. But -- because he had no prior infractions on his record -- he was allowed to return to class.

"All of this could have been prevented if he hadn't had access (to a gun) or if just one of those parents had said, 'I'm concerned about what I'm seeing right now and I also want you to know we just bought him a gun for Christmas,' and that didn't happen," McDonald said.

State attorney general offers to investigate
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is offering a team from her office to conduct a "full and comprehensive" review of the events that led up to the shooting, her office told CNN in an email on Monday.

"We reached out to the attorney for the Oxford Community School District and offered the services of the Michigan Department of Attorney General to conduct a full and comprehensive review of the 11/30/21 shooting and the events leading up to it. Our attorneys and special agents are uniquely qualified to perform an investigation of this magnitude and are prepared to perform an extensive investigation and inquiry to answer the many questions the community has regarding this tragedy," the email said.

The offer was made in response to a letter sent by Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne to the "Wildcat Nation" on Saturday saying that the school district would be requesting an independent review of the events surrounding the tragedy.

CNN has reached out to the attorney general's office and the school district to determine what the next steps are.

Nessel was critical of Oxford school district's decision to hire a third party to conduct an investigation, saying in an interview with CNN affiliate WXYZ that she does not find it appropriate.

"We've seen this happen before, and unfortunately, and I'm not accusing Oxford schools of anything, but in the past, we've seen this where it's really more of an effort to protect the client who hired you than to get to the truth of the matter," Nessel said.

Parents, son being held in same jail
James and Jennifer Crumbley and their son were being housed at the same facility and monitored under suicide watch, authorities said.

Staff at the Oakland County Jail in Pontiac were checking on the three "multiple times an hour," Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said at a news conference Saturday.

Bouchard said the three are not able to communicate with each other in the jail. However, Ethan Crumbley is aware his parents are in custody, according to Paulette Michel Loftin, Crumbley's court-appointed attorney.

Loftin told CNN she has met with the suspect twice and in one of those meetings, she told him that his parents were in custody and at the jail. "He does not have access to any form of TV, internet or newspaper but I did make him aware," Loftin said.

Loftin said she has not yet seen any of the evidence that prosecutors have but expects to get it by Wednesday. This evidence should include surveillance videos, witness interviews, police reports and the drawings he made, she said.

Loftin said Crumbley's next court date is December 13 and will occur over Zoom. The proceeding will set a date for Crumbley's next court appearance and preliminary examination, during which prosecutors are expected to give even more evidence and the judge will decide to go forward with the trial.

Ethan Crumbley was charged as an adult Wednesday with terrorism, first degree murder and other counts in the shooting that killed Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17. In court Wednesday, a defense attorney submitted a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

James and Jennifer Crumbley have pleaded not guilty to the involuntary manslaughter charges, which were filed by prosecutors who allege they provided unrestricted access to the gun Ethan Crumbley is accused of using.

The parents were due to attend an arraignment Friday. Their failure to appear led authorities to search for the couple, who were found and apprehended Saturday.

Attorneys for the parents maintain they intended to turn themselves in to authorities before their arrest inside an industrial building in nearby Detroit. "We intend to fight this case in the courtroom and not in the court of public opinion. We know that in the end the entire story and truth will prevail," the defendants' attorneys said.

"They appeared to be hiding in the building," Detroit Police Chief James White said during a news conference early Saturday. They were "very distressed" after they were detained, the chief said.

White said he did not know the Crumbleys' intentions, but added, "this isn't indicative of turning themselves in, hiding in a warehouse."

Man helped Crumbley parents into his workspace
A man who police say helped the Crumbleys get into the building where they were found has come forward and is cooperating with authorities, the man's attorney said.

Andrzej Sikora, 65, knew the Crumbleys were using his workspace, but he "did not really know what was going on" and didn't know the couple "had active warrants" when they were discovered and subsequently arrested, attorney Clarence Dass told CNN on Sunday.

Sikora "got roped into it," Dass said, but declined to say why he allowed the couple to stay in the workspace or provide additional details on their relationship other than to say "he knew them, but not well."

Dass told CNN his client was at the workspace for "a short period of time," but was not there late Friday evening and the overnight hours when the Crumbleys were arrested, adding he didn't realize the Crumbleys were in his space for "that long."

As of early Monday, Sikora has not been charged with any crimes.

Superintendent calls for third-party investigation
In his letter addressed to the school community, Superintendent Tim Throne announced Saturday that Oxford Community Schools was requesting a third-party investigation of the shooting.

Throne also provided details on "the school's version of events" in the letter, highlighting shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley's movements leading up to and during the shooting.

Tuesday morning, after a teacher alerted school counselors and the dean of students about concerning drawings and written statements made by the suspect, he was "immediately removed from the classroom" and taken to a guidance counselor's office, Throne said in the letter. A day earlier, the student was discovered viewing images of ammunition on his cell phone during class and said it was for his family's shooting hobby, the letter said.

The suspect told a school counselor the drawing was for a video game he was designing, Throne said. Guidance counselors monitored the student in their office as they unsuccessfully tried to reach his parents for an hour and a half, the letter said.

After the parents were contacted and arrived, counselors asked questions about the student's capacity for harm, and the family's answers "led counselors to again conclude he did not intend on committing either self-harm or harm to others," the letter said.

School counselors told the parents they had 48 hours to seek counseling for their son, otherwise the school would have to contact Child Protective Services, the letter reads. When asked to take their child home for the rest of the day, Throne said the student's parents "flatly refused," leaving their son behind to "return to work."

Because he had no prior disciplinary actions on his record, school counselors decided to allow him to return to his class rather than send him to what they thought would be an empty home, Throne said, adding the decision was not shared with the principal or assistant principal.

The suspect starting firing his gun "during passing time between classes when hundreds of students were in the hallway transitioning from one classroom to the other" later that morning, Throne said, and it's unclear to him if the gun was in the student's backpack.

"Before the shooter was able to walk a short distance to enter the main hallway, students and staff had already entered classrooms, locked doors, erected makeshift barricades and locked down or fled according to their training," Throne said. "The suspect was not able to gain access to a single classroom."

An initial review of videos of the shooting showed "staff and students' response to the shooter was efficient, exemplary and definitely prevented further deaths and injuries," the superintendent said.

Reopening plan for schools 'evolving'
The plan to return students to Oxford High School "is evolving," but it will be "quite sometime before the high school is ready to serve as an educational setting again," Throne said in a letter to the community Sunday.

The reopening plan which includes a "soft opening" with a law enforcement presence as well as trained clinicians to support students and staff.

Grief counselors are currently available at various schools. All high school athletics competition is canceled for the week, but practices are expected to begin Thursday in other locations.

"The plan for high school students is still evolving and we will communicate it to you once it is solidified. In the meantime, we are working to create opportunities for the students to be together in our community," Throne wrote.

Following training later this week, the elementary schools and a few select programs will return Friday for a half day and next Monday, December 13, for full days.

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