A judge on Thursday ordered the parents of a 15-year-old boy charged with killing four students at his Michigan high school to stand trial on involuntary manslaughter charges.
Rochester Hills District Court Judge Julie Nicholson said following the preliminary examination for Jennifer and James Crumbley that she found enough evidence to send their case to circuit court.
They are charged with involuntary manslaughter and accused of making the gun used in the shooting available to the teen. The couple is also accused of failing to intervene when he showed signs of mental distress at home and at school.
Ethan Crumbley is charged as an adult with first-degree murder, assault with intent to murder, terrorism and gun charges in the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Detroit. In addition to the four students slain, six other students and a teacher were wounded.
The gun used in the shooting was given to Ethan Crumbley as an early Christmas present, prosecutors have said.
“The court finds that the deaths of the four victims could have been avoided if James and Jennifer Crumbley exercised ordinary care and diligence in the care of their son,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson said prosecutors showed Ethan Crumbley presented a danger to the community and “that danger was apparent to an ordinary mind.” Testimony showed that Ethan Crumbley was a “troubled young man” and his parents knew it, she said.
“But they purchased a gun which he believed was his,” Nicholson added.
The Crumbleys’ attorneys insisted the couple didn’t know their son might plan an attack and didn’t make the gun easy to find in their home, but Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said Thursday that Ethan Crumbley reached out to his parents for help.
And while no help was forthcoming, the coming trouble was foreseeable, she said.
“You’re allowed to be a terrible parent,” McDonald said. “if that’s all this was, we wouldn’t be here.”
Ethan Crumbley’s counselor at Oxford High School testified earlier Thursday that he told the teen’s parents the morning of the shootings that he believed their son was a threat to himself and needed mental health support.
“I said as soon as possible, today if possible,” Shawn Hopkins said. But, he testified, Jennifer Crumbley told him, “Today was not an option because they had to return to work.”
“I didn’t want Ethan to be alone at home,” Hopkins added.
On the morning of the shooting, Ethan’s parents were summoned to the school and confronted with his drawings, which included a handgun and the words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” Authorities said the parents refused to take him home after the 13-minute meeting.
“I wrote Ethan a pass back to class,” Hopkins continued. “I told him, ‘I just want you to know I care about you.’ I don’t remember them saying goodbye (to Ethan).”
Earlier Thursday, defense attorneys asked Oakland County sheriff’s Detective Edward Wagrowski whether he thought Jennifer and James Crumbley were aware their son was planning the shooting.
Videos and texts between Ethan and his friend, Brady, in August show Ethan with a gun and inviting Brady to a gun range, said Shannon Smith, Jennifer Crumbley’s attorney.
“The friend is saying things like ‘Nice. Now pull the trigger. jk, jk, jk,'” Smith told Wagrowski, who explained that “jk” is shorthand for “just kidding.”
“Ethan responds about how his dad left the gun out but Ethan knows gun safety so its no problem. And then he says: ‘Now, it’s time to shoot up the school. JK JK JK JK,'” Smith said.
“This conversation existed between Ethan and his friend, but there is not any kind of conversation like this between Ethan and his mother or Ethan and his father?” Smith asked, to which Wagorwski responded “no.”
“The element that the prosecution in this case can never prove is that Jennifer Crumbley or James Crumbley knew that their son was going to commit a school shooting,” Smith said in her closing statement.
But prosecutors alluded to a disconnect between Ethan and his parents, including texts to his friend in which he talks about his “dark side.”
“In a text on April 5, 2021, Ethan writes: ‘Now my mom thinks I take drugs. Like she thinks the reason why I’m so mad and sad all the time is because I take drugs, and she doesn’t worry about my mental health,'” assistant prosecutor Marc Keast said. “And then he writes: ‘They make me feel like I’m the problem.'”
A day before the shooting, the school left a voicemail for Jennifer Crumbley informing her that a teacher was concerned that Ethan had been searching for ammunition online using his phone.
A sheriff’s office computer crimes investigator testified Feb. 8 at the couple’s preliminary examination that she later asked her son in a text if he “at least” showed school officials a photo of the gun the parents gave Ethan as an early Christmas gift.
The Crumbleys remain jailed on $500,000 bond. The case against them is highly unusual because parents are rarely held criminally responsible for teens accused in mass school shootings.
Last month, Ethan Crumbley’s attorneys filed a notice of an insanity defense.
He is lodged alone in a cell in the Oakland County Jail’s clinic to keep him from seeing and hearing adult inmates. Defense attorneys want him moved to a juvenile facility, but prosecutors say he would pose a potential risk of harm to the safety of other juveniles.
An Oakland County Circuit Court judge said during a hearing for Ethan Crumbley on Tuesday that he expected to have a ruling by early next week on whether the teen will remain in the adult jail or be transferred to the county’s Children’s Village.
Williams reported from West Bloomfield, Michigan.