Testimony, closing arguments conclude in manslaughter trial of Michigan school shooter’s mother

Feb 2, 2024, 10:35 AM | Updated: 3:48 pm

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — A prosecutor urged jurors on Friday to convict the mother of a Michigan school shooter in a groundbreaking trial that centered on whether she should be held responsible for the deaths of four students, especially when confronted with her son’s violent drawing ahead of the tragedy.

“He literally drew a picture of what he was going to do. It says, ‘Help me,’” prosecutor Karen McDonald said during final arguments in suburban Detroit.

Jennifer Crumbley, 45, and husband James, 47, are charged with involuntary manslaughter. They’re accused of making a gun accessible at home and not addressing Ethan Crumbley’s mental health. They are the first parents in the U.S. to be charged in a mass school shooting committed by their child.

Jury deliberations for Jennifer Crumbley are scheduled to begin Monday after the judge gives instructions.

James Crumbley faces trial in March. Ethan, who was 15 at the time of the shooting, pleaded guilty to murder and is serving a life prison sentence for killing four students at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021.

Under Michigan law, parents have a reasonable obligation to prevent their child from harming others or being a risk to others, McDonald told the jury at the close of seven days of testimony.

“It’s going to take unique, egregious, incomprehensible facts — and that’s what we have here,” she said.

“Just the smallest — the smallest — of things could have saved Hana and Tate and Madisyn and Justin,” McDonald said, referring to the four victims by their first names. “And not only did she not do it, she doesn’t even regret it.”

During the trial, prosecutors focused on two key events: the purchase of a 9 mm Sig Sauer handgun on Black Friday, four days before the school attack, and a crucial meeting with staff when a teacher discovered a violent drawing on Ethan’s math assignment on the day of the shooting.

There’s no dispute that James Crumbley, accompanied by Ethan, bought a firearm, and Jennifer Crumbley subsequently purchased 100 rounds of ammunition during a visit to a shooting range. She and her son took turns firing the gun and returned home with 50 rounds.

“Jennifer Crumbley told us whose gun it was,” McDonald said. “She posted on social media it was (Ethan’s) Christmas gift. … It was gifted to him and not only was it gifted to him, she bragged about it.”

McDonald pointed out that Jennifer Crumbley texted her husband with the words “emergency” and “I’m very concerned” after the school shared their son’s disturbing drawing on class work and summoned them for a meeting.

The drawing depicted a gun that resembled the Sig Sauer, a bullet and the lines, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. The world is dead. My life is useless.”

Yet the Crumbleys didn’t take Ethan home from school and never informed staff about the new gun or hallucinations months earlier when he told his mom about “demons” at the house and clothes “flying off the wall.”

Jennifer Crumbley told jurors that disclosing the gun to the school wasn’t “relevant.” As for hallucinations, she said it was “just Ethan messing around.”

“I have asked myself if I would have done anything differently. I wouldn’t have. I wish he would have killed us instead,” she testified Thursday.

A counselor and school administrator both said they urged the parents to get him into mental health care as soon as possible. Ethan returned to class and began shooting later that day. No one had checked his backpack for a gun.

“I’m not going to say it’s OK they didn’t look in the backpack,” McDonald said of school staff. “But this is Jennifer Crumbley’s actions. … (Staff) did not have any of the information that was so jarring. It’s about what she knew and what she didn’t say.”

Defense attorney Shannon Smith began her final argument in an unusual way. She talked about her own family and wondered aloud what her criminal liability would be if one of her kids grabbed a kitchen knife and attacked a friend.

“This case is a very dangerous one for parents out there. … Can every parent really be responsible for everything their children do?” Smith said. “This was not foreseeable to Mrs. Crumbley.”

Smith accused prosecutors of giving “cherry-picked” evidence to the jury.

“When you get cherry-picked bits of evidence, it’s easy to reach wrong conclusions,” the attorney said.

Smith said no one buys a gun for a child who has a mental illness.

“The Crumbleys’ son was a skilled manipulator and they didn’t realize it,” she said. “He’s not sick. He doesn’t have a mental illness.”

Yet portions of his journal, displayed to the jury, revealed desperation.

“I have zero help for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up the … school,” Ethan wrote.

“My parents won’t listen to me about help or therapist,” the boy said.

The Crumbley parents were found in a Detroit art studio, four days after the shooting and 12 hours after charges were filed against them. They had more than $6,000 and plastic bins filled with clothes and other possessions. They denied they were trying to flee.

Ten students and a teacher were shot at Oxford High School, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) north of Detroit. Four students died: Hana St. Juliana, Tate Myre, Justin Shilling and Madisyn Baldwin.


Follow Ed White at https://twitter.com/edwritez

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Testimony, closing arguments conclude in manslaughter trial of Michigan school shooter’s mother