Prosecutor: Oxford school shooting suspect's mom had affair while son spiraled

The mother of accused Oxford High School gunman Ethan Crumbley, Jennifer Crumbley is in the 52-3 District Courtroom of Judge Julie Nicholson in Rochester on Dec. 14, 2021, for a probable cause conference in their cases after being charged with involuntary manslaughter. The Crumbleys are represented by attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman.
The mother of accused Oxford High School gunman Ethan Crumbley, Jennifer Crumbley is in the 52-3 District Courtroom of Judge Julie Nicholson in Rochester on Dec. 14, 2021, for a probable cause conference in their cases after being charged with involuntary manslaughter. The Crumbleys are represented by attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman.

The parents of the Oxford High School shooting suspect knew that their son was depressed and heading down a dangerous and violent path, but they ignored his "troubling" texts and other red flags, failed to get him help and paid attention to their own lives instead, including having extramarital affairs, the prosecutor disclosed in a new court filing Thursday.

"The defendants had information long before Nov. 30 (six months prior to the shooting) that their son's only friend moved at the end of October, that the family dog died, that their son was sadder than usual, and that he was sending his mother disturbing texts about his state of mind," the prosecution wrote in a Thursday court filing. "Instead of paying attention to their son and getting him help, they bought him a gun."

And they knew he had access to that gun on Nov. 30, the day 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley allegedly opened fire in a hallway at Oxford High School, killing four students and injuring seven others. Prosecutors said that Jennifer and James Crumbley kept the gun in an unlocked armoire cupboard.

" ... they knew that their son was depressed, that he was fascinated with guns ... that he had been researching ammunition while at a school and that he was seen watching violent videos of shootings that morning," the prosecutor wrote in her filing. "Before they left school that day, they had also seen the disturbing drawings."

There were other signs that Ethan Crumbley needed help, prosecutors allege.

"Their son was torturing animals, even kept a baby bird's head in a jar on his bedroom floor, which he later took and placed in a school bathroom," the prosecutor's filing states. "Meanwhile, the parents were focusing on their own issues, things like extramarital affairs, financial issues and substance abuse."

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald also alleged that during this same time period, the Crumbleys spent their time at a barn caring for their horses three to four nights a week for up to three hours at a time, and "seeking other relationships, including (the) mother's extramarital affairs."

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McDonald made this disclosure in a request to the court that James and Jennifer Crumbley remain locked up on $500,000 bond each, and that the couple not be granted a lower bond of $100,000 cash, as requested by the defense on Wednesday.

The defense, which declined to comment on the prosecutor's latest filing and allegations, has argued that the Crumbleys pose no danger to the public, are not a flight risk and have supporters in the community who will vouch for them.

But the prosecution adamantly disagrees, arguing the higher bond amount is appropriate for a couple who knowingly and negligently failed to get help for their son when they knew he was struggling.

James Crumbley, left, and Jennifer Crumbley
James Crumbley, left, and Jennifer Crumbley

McDonald also alleged in her filing that on the day of the shooting, Jennifer Crumbley gave misleading statements about the location of the gun that she had purchased for her son for Christmas, including telling her boyfriend that the gun was in her car. Instead, authorities have said, the gun was with her son. And it was her husband who noticed it missing after the shooting and called 911 to report it missing.

The prosecution, meanwhile, argues that the Crumbleys are "a greater risk of flight now" than they were following their arraignment, noting they are $11,000 behind on house payments. Their house is currently for sale and they have sold their horses.

The prosecutor's filing comes one day after defense lawyers asked a judge to lower Jennifer and James Crumbley's bond from $500,000 to $100,000 cash, arguing the couple poses no threat to society and can be trusted to remain free pending the outcome of their cases.

The Crumbleys are facing involuntary manslaughter charges in a novel case that seeks to hold parents responsible, in part, for a deadly school shooting. According to prosecutors, the parents bought the gun that was used in the shooting as an early Christmas present for their son, who is facing terrorism and first-degree murder charges.

Police say Ethan Crumbley opened fire in a hallway after exiting a bathroom, just shortly after meeting with counselors and his parents at school over some behavior issues.

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According to police and the prosecution, Ethan Crumbley was seen in class browsing for ammunition on his cellphone a day before the massacre. The next day, he was found with a note depicting a handgun with the words, "The thoughts won't stop. Help me," and a sketch of someone bleeding.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald announced during a press conference at her office in Pontiac on December 3, 2021, that James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of alleged Oxford High School shooter, Ethan Crumbley, were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald announced during a press conference at her office in Pontiac on December 3, 2021, that James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of alleged Oxford High School shooter, Ethan Crumbley, were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

His parents refused to take him home. The student was returned to class with his backpack, which was never searched and police now saying it contained the gun that was used in the attack.

"All they had to do was tell the school that they recently purchased a gun for their son, and asked him where the gun was, open his backpack, or just take him home," McDonald argued in Thursday's filing.

The defense argues that the parents had no way of knowing their son would open fire that day.

"The Crumbleys, like every parent and community member, are devastated by the school shooting," defense lawyers have argued in court documents. "The last thing they expected was that a school shooting would take place, or that their son would be responsible. This situation is entirely devastating."

The defense believes prosecutors face an uphill battle and will fail to prove their case.

The parents "did not know Ethan was a threat to anyone; and they certainly did not anticipate or cause the tragedy that unfolded at Oxford High School," the defense has argued.

The Nov. 30 shooting left four students dead and seven other people injured, including a teacher. According to prosecutors, four days before the shooting, the Crumbleys bought Ethan the gun that was used in the massacre.

Bond was denied to Ethan Crumbley. His lawyers tried earlier this month to get the teenager moved out of jail and into a juvenile facility, arguing he had never been in trouble before and that the shooting was an "isolated incident." The judge, however, denied the request and concluded that Ethan Crumbley belongs in an adult jail pending the outcome of his case.

The Crumbleys and their son are housed in the Oakland County Jail, though none has any communication with the other. A bond hearing for the parents has been set for Jan. 7.

According to prosecutors, the parents did not have the gun properly secured. The defense has disputed that, stating in court records, "the Crumbleys did have the gun at issue in a locked and hidden location."

Killed in the shootings were Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Justin Shilling, 17.

Separately, a civil lawsuit seeking $100 million has been filed against the school district on behalf of a student who was shot in the neck and survived, and her younger sister who watched it happen.

The lawsuit alleges that the school district put students in harm's way by ignoring signs of a troubled teen who was allowed to return to class after exhibiting troubling behavior in class, both on the day of the shootings and the day before.

His parents were summoned, and a meeting with counselors and their son followed. The parents resisted taking him out of school. He was sent back to class with his backpack, which police said they believe contained the gun used in the shootings.

According to school officials, Ethan Crumbley explained that the drawing of the gun and blood was part of a video game design, and that counselors did not believe he might harm others based on his "behavior, responses and demeanor," so they let him return to class.

The defense has argued that McDonald has filed "inappropriate" charges against the parents, and has accused the prosecutor of charging the parents " out of anger" and in "in an effort to send a message to gun owners."

McDonald has publicly stated that she knows it's a novel case, and that she has faced "pushback" from inside her office for bringing the case. But she maintains the charges are warranted.

"I want to be really clear that these charges are intended to hold individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable and also send a message that gun owners have a responsibility. When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences," McDonald has previously said, stressing the 15-year-old's note in class was especially alarming.

" (R)eading the words, 'Help me' with a gun, blood everywhere," McDonald said, " ... that a parent could read those words and know that their son had access to a deadly weapon that they gave him is unconscionable, and I think criminal. It is criminal.

Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Prosecutor: Oxford suspect's parents ignored son's troubling texts

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