James and Jennifer Crumbley broke down crying in court Tuesday after a police lieutenant read an excerpt from their son’s journal that read: “I hope my parents can forgive me for what I do.”
Prosecutors say Ethan Crumbley wrote those words before he allegedly carried out a mass shooting at Oxford High School that killed four classmates and injured seven others.
In the journal, however, the 15-year-old also allegedly blamed his parents for what he was about to do.
“I will cause the biggest school shooting Michigan’s history. I will kill everyone I f—— see,” Ethan allegedly wrote. “I have fully mentally lost it after fighting my dark side. My parents won’t help me.”
He also allegedly wrote: “The first victim has to be to be a pretty girl with a future so she can suffer like me.”
Perhaps most chilling, said Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, was this excerpt: “I have zero help with my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot the school. My parents won’t listen to me.”
Lt. Timothy Willis read these journal excerpts during a day-long hearing in which the prosecution is trying to convince a judge that it has enough evidence to take the Crumbleys to trial on involuntary manslaughter charges. Prosecutors say the couple ignored numerous red flags that their son was spiraling out of control, and instead of getting him help they bought him a gun, which he allegedly used in the Nov. 30 massacre.
On cross examination, defense attorney Shannon Smith argued there is no evidence in the journal that Ethan told his parents that he planned to carry out a mass shooting, nor is there evidence that his parents knew he would do this.
Earlier Thursday, an Oxford High School counselor testified that Ethan Crumbley’s parents appeared cold in his office on the morning of the shooting, never hugging or touching their son, who had just drawn a violent picture of a gun and the words: ‘My life is useless” and “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”
His testimony quickly triggered a sharp rebuke from the defense, who grilled the counselor about why he let Ethan Crumbley return to class that day after just telling the court he feared the student had suicidal thoughts, and was not getting support from his parents.
“You could have said, ‘he has to leave,’ defense attorney Shannon Smith told the counselor.
“I could have stated that, correct,” responded the counselor, Shawn Hopkins.
“You did not take a firm position, ‘Ethan needs to go home from school,’ ” Smith continued.
More:Testimony: Ethan Crumbley asked dad for help. He told him to ‘suck it up’
More:Watch live: Parents of Oxford school shooting suspect back in court
“Correct,” the counselor answered, also conceding that he never went to the dean of students and asked him to send Ethan home.
“Are you aware that the gun was in his backpack?” Smith asked.
“I don’t know,” the counselor answered.
Smith concluded her line of questioning in asking the counselor if he ever contacted Child Protective Services about Ethan, arguing that’s required by school officials who suspect children are in danger.
“You did not file a form with Child Protective Services alleging there was a suspicion that mom and dad weren’t getting him medical attention. You didn’t see any reason to file one? ” Smith asked.
“Correct,” answered the counselor, who explained that he asked the parents to take their son. But when they said it wasn’t an option, he said, he gave them 48 hours to get the boy into therapy, and then he would call CPS.
The counselor offered for the first time a glimpse into what happened in Oxford High School on the day before and of the shooting, when 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley allegedly emerged from a bathroom and opened fire, killing four students and injuring six students and a teacher.
Two lawsuits have been filed against the school district over the shooting, alleging school officials made several missteps that put students’ lives in danger.
Ethan was ‘sad’
According to the counselor’s testimony, here is what he witnessed:
On Nov. 29, the day before the shooting, Hopkins was alerted about Ethan Crumbley researching bullets on his phone while in class, and was called into a meeting to be a source of support for Ethan.
According to Hopkins, at that meeting, Ethan said that he understood that researching bullets “was not school appropriate behavior.” He also told school officials that the previous weekend, he and his mom had gone target shooting at a gun range, and that shooting was a hobby and he was researching it in class.
Hopkins said a school official left a voicemail for the mother, Ethan was returned to class, and the meeting ended “on a positive note. there was no necessary follow through.”
The next day, Ethan Crumbley was pulled out of class again, this time for drawing the violent note in math class.
“He said, ‘I can see why this looks bad. I’m not going to do anything,‘ ” Hopkins recalled Ethan telling him, noting he was worried that Ethan was suicidal. “I wanted to make sure he was OK.”
Hopkins said that Ethan told him that the gun drawing was a video simulation and that he wasn’t a threat to himself or others. But Hopkins asked him to explain the words, ‘my life is useless,’ noting ‘This does not sound like a video game.”
That’s when Ethan’s demeanor changed, Hopkins said. He became sad, then described some things that had happened in his life: his family dog had died, he lost a grandparent, his friend had moved away, the pandemic was difficult and he had recently argued with his parents over his grades.
“At that point I determined that there was enough suicidal ideation based on his sadness,” said Hopkins, who performed a suicidal assessment of Ethan.
He then called the teenager’s mom and put her on speaker phone. She wanted to talk to Ethan and asked what was going on. Ethan responded with: ” I don’t know.”
“I asked her to please come to the school. She said she was at work and she would try getting a hold of his dad,” Hopkins said.
Both parents eventually showed up at around 10:30 a.m. Hopkins met the parents in the counseling office lobby and brought them to his office.
The counselor sat at his desk. Dad and son sat across from him. Mom sat further away. The dean of students joined the meeting.
Parents ‘weren’t friendly’
Hopkins said the meeting with the Crumbleys was different than other meetings he’s had with parents and their kids.
“They weren’t friendly or showing care to their son,” Hopkins said. “They didn’t greet him. They didn’t hug him.”
Hopkins said he expressed to the parents that he was concerned about Ethan’s well being and suicide ideation, gave them a list of mental health resources and said that “he needs someone to talk to for mental health support. I said as soon as possible. Today if possible.”
But Jennifer Crumbley said that day was not an option because she had to return to work. He doesn’t recall the dad saying anything, and noted “I have never had parents arrive at the school and not take their student home.”
Hopkins said he met Ethan Crumbley during his freshman year, but that it was a brief encounter over Zoom and involved making his schedule.
He said that Ethan had no history of disciplinary problems at school, and there were no records of him being bullied. On one occasion, a Spanish teacher contacted him about Ethan and said that the student appeared sad.
Hopkins said that he checked on Ethan. After waiting outside a classroom for him, he said he went up to the teen and said, “Hey, I hear you may be having a rough time. I’m here if you need to talk.”
He said, “OK.”
But Hopkins never heard from him.
The backpack, and the gun
According to Hopkins, the meeting with the parents and Ethan lasted about 15 minutes. He doesn’t remember the mom saying anything to her son, but he recalls the dad looking over the gun drawing, and telling his son: “You have people you can talk to. You have your counselor you can talk to. You have your journal.”
He said the meeting ended abruptly.
“I was asked by mom, ‘are we done?’ ” recalled Hopkins, who responded, “I guess so.”
Hopkins said he asked the dean if there were any disciplinary reason why Ethan couldn’t be returned to class.
The dean said no, and Ethan was sent back to class.
“I wrote him a pass to go to class and told him, “I just want you to know I care about you,’” Hopkins recalled.
Ethan did not respond.
“I cared about him in that moment particularly,” Hopkins testified. “I thought it was a really rough situation to be showing signs of needing help, of needing support, and it felt like he got the opposite when I tried to get him that help and support.”
When asked about Ethan’s backpack, which police believe contained the gun that was used in the shooting, Hopkins said that Ethan did not have it with him during the meeting with his parents. It was left behind in math class, he said, and a teacher brought it to him in the counselor’s office as that class was over by the time the meeting ended.
The backpack was never searched.
Thursday’s hearing also included testimony from:
• A gun shop owner testified that James Crumbley came into her shop on Nov. 26 with a minor and purchased the 9 mm handgun, telling her “I’ve had my eye on it for a few days.” Police say the gun was used in the school shooting, though the defense argued on cross examination that it’s not illegal for a minor to temporarily possess a handgun under certain circumstances, like target shooting with a parent.
• The manager of a shooting range testified that on Nov. 27, two days before the school shooting, Ethan and his mom went target shooting together. Video was played in court of the mom and son target shooting together, though the defense argued that there’s nothing illegal about that.
• Oakland County Sheriff Sgt. Matthew Peschke, who helped search the Crumbleys’ home on the day of the shooting, also testified Thursday. He said police searched Ethan’s room and found shell casings from a gun in plain sight, a nearly empty bottle of whiskey, folding knives, feces from a small animal and a Nazi coin – all of which were shown on a screen in court.
Prosecutors also sought to introduce as evidence a marijuana grow operation that police found in the Crumbleys’ basement. But the defense objected, arguing that information was irrelevant to the case. The judge sustained the objection.
Tresa Baldas: firstname.lastname@example.org