The 17-year-old suspect arrested in a North Carolina homicide told investigators she killed her father sometime last month, according to a search warrant affidavit filed this week.
Crystal Brooke Howell was interviewed Sunday at the Richmond County jail by two investigators from North Carolina – a detective with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office and an agent with the State Bureau of Investigation, according to the warrant issued Tuesday.
“During the course of the interview, Crystal Howell stated that approximately one month ago, she shot her father, Michael Howell, in the head with a shotgun. She stated that sometime afterward she threw the fired shotgun shell in the garbage,” sheriff’s Detective Scott Robinson said in the warrant affidavit.
Crystal Howell has been in police custody since Sunday, when she was arrested at a Motel 6 on Boy Scout Road. North Carolina authorities had been seeking her since Saturday afternoon, when friends staying at her home in Maggie Valley, N.C., discovered her father’s body in a plastic tote bin inside a storage shed on the property.
According to the arrest warrant, Michael Howell had been dead since Feb. 23. Police said he died of a single gunshot to the head.
Funeral plans for Howell, a former Columbia County News-Times sports editor, are incomplete according to his ex-wife, Kristina Rester, who is handling arrangements. Rester said the plans include cremation and a funeral in Augusta after North Carolina authorities release his body.
Rester said their daughter had called her March 19 to say her father had released her from his custody and wanted to move back to Augusta. Rester said she told her daughter she would have to provide proof of the emancipation, before she would allow it.
Nevertheless, Crystal Howell showed up at Rester’s home March 22 driving her father’s orange Land Rover and pulling a U-Haul trailer filled with her belongings. The vehicle and trailer have since been seized by investigators.
Rester said her daughter stayed only long enough to take a shower and left to meet a friend and find a place to rent.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, friends of Crystal Howell were staying at the family’s eight-bedroom cabin in the remote Sheepback Mountain community near Maggie Valley.
According to the affidavit, Crystal Howell told her friends that her father had left home in January and committed suicide in Georgia.
Sometime afterward, the friends – identified as Summer Ramsey and Elijah Damon – moved into the cabin to stay with Howell and began to go through her father’s belongings, and to “clean and organize,” according to the affidavit.
The three filled several plastic totes with belongings and began to place them in an outside storage shed.
According to a statement to police from Ramsey’s mother, “Crystal Howell moved several of the totes back to the storage shed in the last few days and the shed was locked up and the key given to Summer Ramsey. Crystal told Summer to please keep everyone out of the shed except to put more items in the shed,” the affidavit said.
About 2:30 p.m. March 22, Damon and another man, Anthony Talley, were moving a pinball machine and more plastic totes into the shed. Talley noticed a sleeping bag covering a tote and removed it, revealing Michael Howell’s body inside, the affidavit said.
When reached by phone Friday, Talley said he knew Crystal only as an acquaintance, having worked on her father’s Land Rover a few times. He confirmed that he and Damon found the body while moving items into the storage building. He said he was still shaken from what he saw in the shed, but police had asked him not to discuss details of the case.
“I never want to see anything like that ever again in my life,” Talley said. “It has ruined me.”
On Wednesday, Crystal Howell made a brief appearance in an Augusta courtroom before Judge Stephen Shepard. After learning that the defendant did not have legal counsel, Shepard chose to halt the proceeding until she had consulted an attorney.
Another hearing date was not set, court officials said.
Rester said she has spoken to her daughter since the arrest, but wasn’t privy to any details of the case. She said Crystal had lived with her ex-husband since they divorced about five years ago. She still saw her periodically and spoke to her often.
“We actually had a really good summer,” she said. “We talked about her moving back here, but before we worked out the details she decided to move back with her dad.”
Rester said her daughter had difficulties with authority and tested boundaries, which created family conflicts. Most recently, she had been arrested in North Carolina in December on a shoplifting charge, Rester said.
“The reason she wasn’t living with us was that she couldn’t follow the rules here,” she said.