Jennifer Crumbley Trial: Mother of Michigan School Shooter Testifies

The mother of the teenager who carried out Michigan’s deadliest school shooting testified on Thursday that her son had never asked for professional help with mental health issues, despite what he wrote in a journal. She also said that he was just “messing around” when he sent his parents texts about seeing a demon.

Prosecutors are seeking to hold the mother, Jennifer Crumbley, partially responsible for her son’s rampage at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021. Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 at the time, killed four people and injured seven others.

In the last few months, parents whose children carried out gun violence in other states have pleaded guilty to charges of reckless conduct or neglect. But the charges against Ms. Crumbley, 45, and her husband, who each face four counts of involuntary manslaughter, are some of the strongest yet for parents of a school shooter, making their trials a significant test case for prosecutors.

The husband, James Crumbley, 47, will be tried separately in March.

Prosecutors in Oakland County, who rested their case against Ms. Crumbley before she took the stand on Thursday, called 21 witnesses to testify about both the day of the rampage and events leading up to it. They introduced text messages from the months before the shooting in which Ethan had told his mother that their home was haunted, possibly by a demon.

Ms. Crumbley, they pointed out, did not always respond.

Marc Keast, one of the prosecutors, called it one of many glaring warning signs ignored by the Crumbleys, who he said “didn’t do any number of tragically small and easy things that would have prevented all of this from happening.”

In addition to the message about a demon, there were messages that Ethan sent to a friend in April 2021, complaining of insomnia, paranoia and hearing voices. Prosecutors also shared messages exchanged by Ms. Crumbley with her husband, colleagues and friends, which they said suggested that she was more concerned about taking care of her two horses than she was about her son’s apparent distress.

But Ms. Crumbley’s lawyer, Shannon Smith, argued that the months of messages had been cherry-picked.

Ms. Crumbley testified on Thursday that Ethan had joked with his parents for years about whether their house was haunted, adding that he had at times played with a Ouija board in the basement. “He was always sarcastic,” she said. “Always messing around with us.”

Earlier on Thursday, a detective guided jurors through the pages of Ethan’s journal, which had been found at the school after the shooting. The teenager had written about a plan to cause bloodshed, adding drawings of guns and pleas for help regarding his mental health.

“My parents won’t listen to me about help or a therapist,” Ethan wrote. But Ms. Crumbley said that she had never seen the journal entries, nor heard her son ask for a therapist.

She also described a meeting with school officials that took place about two hours before the shooting. She and her husband had been called to the high school after Ethan wrote troubling things on a math worksheet, including the phrase “Blood Everywhere.”

Ms. Crumbley said that after a counselor shared his concerns about Ethan’s mental health, they decided together that her son could stay at school rather than go home alone. “We talked about him being sad,” she said, “and he said being around peers usually helps.”

Ms. Smith, the defense lawyer, had hoped to call Ethan to the stand, as well. But the judge said she would not require him to testify, because he was expected to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Though he pleaded guilty, his life sentence without parole is still eligible for appeal.

Prosecutors have also suggested that the Crumbleys attempted to flee the authorities by leaving their home in Oxford shortly after the shooting. The couple were arrested in Detroit on Dec. 4, 2021. Ms. Smith has argued that they feared for their safety in the face of relentless threats.

On Thursday, Ms. Crumbley testified that she had been planning to turn herself in.

Ms. Crumbley also said that although she had taken her son to a gun range a few days before the shooting, Ethan had been the one to suggest the outing. She added that her husband, who was more familiar with firearms, had been responsible for storing the gun, which he bought Ethan as a Christmas present.

“I just didn’t feel comfortable being in charge of that,” she said. “It was more his thing, so I let him handle that. I didn’t feel comfortable putting the lock thing on it.”

While on the stand Thursday, Ms. Crumbley acknowledged that she had been having an extramarital affair with a longtime friend, Brian Meloche — a fact that was originally revealed to the jury on Wednesday during Mr. Meloche’s testimony.

In some of her text messages to Mr. Meloche after the shooting, Ms. Crumbley expressed anxiety and regret, saying in one: “I failed as a parent.” But in others, she suggested that school officials were to blame. “The system failed,” she wrote.

On Thursday, she testified that before the shooting, she had not seen her son as a danger to others.

“As a parent, you spend your whole life trying to protect your child from other dangers,” Ms. Crumbley said. “You never would think you have to protect your child from harming somebody else.”

First appeared on www.nytimes.com

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