MUSKEGON (AP) – An 18-year-old has confessed to gunning down his family because his father had threatened to kick him out of the house, authorities said yesterday.
Seth Privacky was arraigned yesterday on five counts of open murder. A friend, Steven Wallace, also 18, faces the same charges. A judge set bail at $5 million each after Muskegon County Prosecutor Tony Tague said both had confessed to the Dalton Township killings and were “extremely dangerous.”
They could face life in prison. Both men showed no emotion in court, but Privacky requested he someday be allowed to get out of prison. Courtroom spectators, many of them friends of the suspects and victims, wept.
Autopsy results were not immediately available, but authorities believe all the deaths occurred Sunday around 1:30 p.m. Wallace was apprehended early Monday morning near the Privacky family home, moments after police arrived at the scene. He began cooperating immediately with authorities, Tague said. Privacky was arrested Monday afternoon after police received a tip he was hiding in a nearby pole barn.
The victims were identified as Stephen Privacky, a fifth-grade teacher at Muskegon’s Reeths-Puffer Elementary School; his wife, Linda Privacky, a receptionist at a medical office in Muskegon; their older son, Jedediah Privacky; Jedediah’s girlfriend, April Boss, and Stephen Privacky’s father, John Privacky.
After the arraignment, Tague told reporters that Seth Privacky made his confession about an hour before the arraignment. Tague said the teen-ager told authorities he shot all five, point-blank in the head, and then moved the bodies around with Wallace’s help to make it look like a robbery.
Tague dismissed speculation depression might have played a role. Records unsealed yesterday show the court in 1997 ordered Seth Privacky to attend counseling and take Wellbutrin, an anti-depressive drug, after he was arrested for shoplifting and embezzlement.
“I don’t believe with or without the medication, his psychological condition is serious enough to alter the charges,” Tague said. “There is no significant history of mental illness.” He did not know if Seth Privacky had been taking the medication in the days leading up to the deaths.
Tague also said more investigation is needed before determining whether the charges against either man will be downgraded. Wallace’s lawyer told the judge his client was an accessory. Muskegon County Dep. Sgt. Dennis Edwards said Seth Privacky, who has no criminal history of violence, told him the killings began just before 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Seth Privacky’s mother was showering and his father was picking up the grandfather for a late Thanksgiving celebration.
“He took his father’s 22-Ruger, loaded it and shot his brother in the back of his head while he watched TV,” Edwards said. “The father had gone to pick up the grandfather. When they came in the door, he shot them. He shot his grandfather twice … to make sure he was dead.
“He then waited until his mother got out of the shower and shot her. … April had come over and had apparently seen the bodies, so he shot her.”
Investigators are still trying to piece together what happened next, but Edwards said they believe Seth Privacky called Wallace and asked him for help cleaning up, saying, “It’s done” in reference to a conversation Saturday that he had about killing his father.
Edwards said the men had planned to take the bodies out of the home and bury them, but decided to stage a robbery scene when the bodies turned out to be too heavy to carry.
Police then believe Wallace drove to a pond 10 miles away, where he got rid of the gun and clip, which police have since recovered. He then drove to a Blockbuster Video store to return a rented movie, went home and then attended a church youth group, Edwards said.
Seth Privacky, meanwhile, dropped the spent shell casings in a gas station trash can before going to local grocery store to get duct tape for the robbery scene, Edwards said. At some point the two met up again, probably later in the evening, Edwards said. They were in the middle of cleaning up the crime scene when Boss’ parents, who had come to the home looking for their daughter, drove up. They saw someone standing over Stephen Privacky’s body on the driveway, and called police. Wallace was apprehended immediately, but Privacky spent nearly 13 hours hiding.
Police found the pair’s bloody clothing and a television stolen as part of the robbery in one of the Privacky’s cars.
Although Seth Privacky cried when he finished making his statement yesterday, Edwards said the teenager had earlier tried to blame his dead brother, describing the killings as a murder-suicide pact gone awry.
Classmates who gathered outside the courtroom said that although the evidence pointed to their friends’ guilt, they could not understand what went so wrong Thanksgiving weekend.
“I know parents die, grandparents and aunts and uncles, but never anyone your age,” said Tina Malotke, who identified herself as a friend of Boss. Court records show Seth Privacky was a B-average student, whose parents as recently as 1997 described him as a good kid .
In an essay he wrote as part of a court sentence for shoplifting, Seth Privacky discussed his interest in science, his desire to get married and travel. “I’d also like to have kids one day. Not too many, because I know how much trouble I get into and how much of a nuisance I can be sometimes,” he wrote.
In another court-ordered essay, he wrote that his goal was “to try to become a positive role model in our society. To try and convince my peers to obey the law.”