Jennifer Crumbley, mother of Michigan shooter, testifies she regrets her son's actions

PONTIAC, Mich. — Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of teenage school shooter Ethan Crumbley, testified Thursday that while "I don't think I'm a failure as a parent" and "wouldn't have" done anything differently in how she parented her son, she regrets what he did.

"I wish he would have killed us, instead," she said on the stand in her involuntary manslaughter trial.

She added: "I don't want to say that I'm a victim, because I do not want to disrespect the families that truly are the victims in this, but we did lose a lot."

"You lost everything?" her lawyer, Shannon Smith, asked.

"We did," Crumbley said.

Her relationship with her son was the crux of her highly anticipated testimony, which her defense said would show why she "could have never anticipated" that he would kill four students and injure several others at Oxford High School in November 2021.

The trial, which opened a week ago, is an unusual case of a parent of a school shooter facing criminal responsibility.

The line of questioning by Crumbley's lawyer attempted to deflect the blame from her. She testified that her husband was responsible for storing the gun he had bought their son as an early Christmas gift and that the task "was his thing."

Crumbley also said her son's school failed to tell her about his difficulty staying awake and paying attention in his classes.

"If you heard your son was having a rough time, what would you do to follow up?" Smith asked.

"I would talk to my son and find out what's going on," Crumbley said.

She acknowledged her son was generally worried about his future after high school and would get stressed out, but she said his mental health never alarmed her enough that she felt he needed to see a professional.

"There was a couple of times when Ethan had expressed anxiety over taking tests, anxiety about what he was going to do after high school, whether it was college, military," Crumbley said. "So he expressed those concerns to me. Not to a level where I felt he needed to see a psychiatrist or mental health professional right away."

During her testimony, the jury was shown dozens of images from Crumbley's Facebook page of her family spending time together spanning several years.

"I trusted him, and I felt we had an open door and he can talk to me about anything," Crumbley said. "I thought as a family we were really close."

The trial opened Jan. 25 in an Oakland County courtroom, with both prosecutors and the defense laying out the dynamic between Crumbley and her son, who was 15 at the time of the shooting.

Prosecutors argued that she knew of her son's deteriorating mental health and social isolation and that he had access to a gun but that she cared more about her horses than his concerns.

"Jennifer Crumbley didn't pull the trigger that day, but she's responsible for their deaths," Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor Marc Keast said in his opening statement.

But her defense told the jury that while she was a caring mother, she did not know her son was capable of such violence — suggesting it was his school that failed to fully inform her and her husband who was responsible for the weapon.

Crumbley's husband, James, faces trial on the same charges of involuntary manslaughter in March.

If they are found guilty, the Crumbleys each face up to 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine per charge.

The trial has centered mostly on the day of the shooting, Nov. 30, 2021.

During a week of presenting its case, prosecutors called more than 20 witnesses, including law enforcement officials and school staff members, and showed text message and video evidence, including school video of the shooting itself.

The video led Crumbley to put her head down and sob.

Image: Jennifer Crumbley (Mandi Wright / Detroit Free Press Pool via AP)
Image: Jennifer Crumbley (Mandi Wright / Detroit Free Press Pool via AP)

A day after Thanksgiving, prosecutors say, James and Jennifer Crumbley bought their son a 9 mm Sig Sauer.

Jennifer Crumbley testified that Ethan asked her that weekend to take him to a gun range, which was the only place where he was allowed to shoot, she said.

"It was a fun day," Crumbley said. "I felt good about it."

She added that she "didn't feel comfortable" being responsible for storing the gun, which also had a cable lock, but that she hid the bullets after they got home from the range.

That Monday, a teacher at Oxford High School said she saw Ethan searching online for ammunition, according to prosecutors, and the school left a voicemail for his mother. The following day, a teacher said she had found a note on Ethan's desk with a drawing of a gun and a person who had been shot, along with messages including, "The thoughts won't stop. Help me."

That discovery prompted the school to summon the parents for a meeting, but school officials testified that they declined to bring him home because they had to go back to work.

The officials also said that if the parents had informed them that their son had access to a gun, they would have been more authoritative to ensure immediate safety.

Ethan would go on to commit the school shooting later that afternoon.

He pleaded guilty as an adult to murder, terrorism and other crimes and was sentenced in December to life in prison without parole.

Crumbley testified Thursday that the night before the shooting, she had an argument with her son about his grades in math. She was initially upset when she and her husband had to go to the school the next day about the drawing.

"I was actually kind of angry, because I thought he was, he did that in, like, defiance of us yelling at him about his assignments," Crumbley said, "and here he is drawing pictures on an empty assignment page in geometry."

Crumbley then described how she and her husband learned about the shooting later that day. She said that her son had texted her, "I love you," which was out of character at his age, but that she didn't think it was linked to anything nefarious.

"It was abnormal for him," she said.

But then her husband, who was aware that there had been a shooting at the school, called Crumbley asking her where she had hidden the gun's bullets.

She said she thought instantly, “Oh, my gosh. He got the gun."

But she testified that she didn't believe he was going to harm anyone and that when she texted him "Ethan don't do it" an hour after the shooting began, it was for another reason.

"I yelled in my talk-to-text 'Ethan don't do it' because I thought he was going to kill himself," Crumbley said.

From then on, the events became a whirlwind, she said, as friends and family members who saw the news reports about the shooting — and had yet to learn the details — wanted to make sure her son was OK.

"That was the hardest thing I had to stomach was that my child harmed and killed other people," Crumbley said.

Three days after the shooting, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald announced involuntary manslaughter charges against the Crumbleys. But authorities had been unable to find them.

The case took a dramatic twist at the time when the U.S. Marshals Service released wanted posters and offered rewards of up to $10,000 for information leading to their arrests.

Crumbley said Thursday that her "Facebook messenger was blowing up with threats" and that because she and her husband felt unsafe, they went to a hotel and later an art studio in Detroit owned by a friend to figure out what to do.

She said they didn't want to turn themselves in at the police station because of all of the attention and were waiting on advice from her lawyer about how to proceed.

She then woke up to law enforcement arresting her and her husband.

Much of Crumbley's testimony involved her defense's trying to knock down evidence that the prosecution had presented earlier in its strategy to portray her as aloof to her son's needs.

Prosecutors had shown the jury photos on Crumbley's phone of both her and her husband riding their horses in March 2021. A computer crimes expert had testified that they were taken at the same time that their son was texting his mother about seeing demons in their house, writing "the house is haunted" and asking her, "Can you at least text back?"

Crumbley didn't write back, according to the message thread, but she dialed her son 90 minutes after he texted in a call that lasted 19 seconds.

She said Thursday that she had seen the texts but that her son had believed their house was haunted and enjoyed "messing with us" because that was his personality.

Prosecutors also introduced a witness, Brian Meloche, who was part of the local "horse community" and whom Crumbley was having an extramarital affair with for about six months in the spring of 2021.

Meloche said Crumbley relayed her concerns on the day of the shooting that she "was worried he was going to do something dumb."

Crumbley testified Thursday that neither her husband nor Ethan knew about the affair.

"Do you feel like that affair caused you to neglect Ethan or not spend time with him?" Smith asked.

"No," she responded, adding that they would mostly see each other in the mornings.

Crumbley's testimony was expected to continue Friday.

Selina Guevara reported from Pontiac and Erik Ortiz from New York.

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