ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. (AP) — A day before four students were killed at a Michigan school, the mother of the teenager accused of carrying out the mass shooting texted him asking if he had shown teachers a “picture of your new gun,” an investigator testified Tuesday.
The text was one of many between Jennifer and Ethan Crumbley on November 29 after school officials left a voicemail saying the 15-year-old was looking for ammunition on his phone.
A judge must decide if there is enough evidence to send Jennifer Crumbley and her husband, James Crumbley, to trial for manslaughter. That’s a low threshold under Michigan law, but this case is highly unusual because parents are rarely held criminally responsible for teenagers accused of mass school shootings.
The Crumbleys, who are in jail on $500,000 bond, are charged with making a gun accessible to Ethan and failing to intervene when he showed signs of mental distress at home and school . Four students were killed and others were injured in the Nov. 30 attack on Oxford High School, which is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Detroit.
The school left a voicemail for Jennifer Crumbley the day before the attack informing her that a teacher was concerned about finding Ethan’s ammunition on her phone.
In court, Ed Wagrowski, a computer crimes investigator with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, read aloud a series of texts exchanged between mother and son.
“Seriously?? Looking for balls at school?” Jennifer Crumbley wrote.
His son replied, “Oh yeah. I’ve already been to the office for this. All I did was look for a certain caliber at the end of class because I was curious. Completely harmless.
“Did you at least show them a picture of your new gun?” Jennifer Crumbley asked.
“No, I didn’t show them a picture. My God,” he replied.
Lawyers for the Crumbleys insist the couple did not know their son might be planning an attack and did not make the gun easy to find in their home.
Prosecutor Karen McDonald said she was trying to show the couple had been grossly negligent. His first witness was the manager of a stable where the Crumbleys kept two horses and visited three to four times a week.
McDonald’s questions were meant to show that the parents seemed more concerned about the health of a horse that had a leg fungus than the “troubled” mental health of their son.
Wagrowski read aloud text messages written by Ethan to his mother last March. The teenager said their house was haunted and a demon was throwing bowls. Jennifer Crumbley was riding and did not respond that day, the investigator said.
On the morning of the shooting, Jennifer and James Crumbley were called into school and confronted with Ethan’s drawings, which included a handgun and the words, “Thoughts won’t stop.” Help me.” Authorities said the parents refused to take him home after the 13-minute meeting and were told to counsel him.
Amanda Holland, a colleague at a real estate company, said Jennifer Crumbley shared a photo of the designs when she returned to work after the school meeting.
“I told her I thought it was scary. She agreed,” Holland testified.
“I said it would be nice for her to take him out for a day, go see a movie, go to lunch,” Holland said. “I said she should have taken him home. I thought it was a disturbing photo and that this child needed to be surrounded by his family.
Jennifer Crumbley said “she felt like a failure as a parent,” according to Holland, who added that it sounded “a bit sarcastic.”
Jennifer Crumbley’s boss, Andrew Smith, said she also shared an image of the drawings with him, although he didn’t immediately look at it.
“She had said her son needed counseling,” Smith said. “I think she mentioned that a pet died and a grandparent died. She felt like she was letting him down, or a failure.
In the late afternoon after the shooting, Jennifer Crumbley expressed her fear of losing her job, Smith said.
“’Please don’t judge me for what my son has done.’ I was surprised by this text,” Smith told the court. “I was surprised that she was worried about her job at that time.”
Ethan Crumbley is charged as an adult with murder and other crimes. His attorneys have filed an insanity defense notice, which will likely freeze his case while experts review it.
There wasn’t much attention on James Crumbley on Tuesday, although his distressed voice filled the courtroom when prosecutors played a 911 call he made after the shooting. He reported that a gun was missing from his family’s home and that his son was a student at Oxford High.
Defense attorney Shannon Smith dabbed Jennifer Crumbley’s watery eyes with a tissue during the hearing. She couldn’t do it herself because of the strain on her wrists.
The hearing will resume with further testimony on February 24.
White reported from Detroit.
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