Jennifer Crumbley trial: Michigan school shooter's mother to testify in manslaughter trial

ByNadine El-Bawab ABCNews logo
Friday, January 26, 2024
Mother of MI school shooter responsible for deaths: prosecutor
James and Jennifer Crumbley have pleaded not guilty to four charges of involuntary manslaughter for their alleged roles in their son's school shooting.

PONTIAC, Mich. -- Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of Michigan school shooter Ethan Crumbley, will testify in her own defense, lawyer Shannon Smith said Thursday as her manslaughter trial got underway with opening statements.

"Jennifer Crumbley is going to take the stand and tell you about her life, her son ... and when he did something she could have not have predicted," Smith said, though a date for her testimony was not announced.

The mother is facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter for her role in the November 2021 shooting that left four students dead and seven other injured.

Jennifer Crumbley pleaded not guilty to all charges in December 2021. A separate trial for her husband, James Crumbley, who is also facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter, will begin in March.

The trial is a rare case of parents being charged in connection to a child's mass shooting.

Jury selection was completed on Wednesday with 12 jurors and five alternates.

On Thursday, prosecutors started with opening statements, arguing that the Crumbleys did not secure the firearm used in the shooting in a way to prevent their son from getting access to it. Prosecutors also argued that Jennifer Crumbley "was still given the opportunity" to prevent the shooting on the day it happened, but did not.

Days before the shooting, a teacher allegedly saw Ethan Crumbley researching ammunition in class, and the school contacted his parents but they didn't respond, according to previous information shared by prosecutors. But Jennifer Crumbley did text her son, writing, "lol, I'm not mad at you, you have to learn not to get caught," according to prosecutors.

Hours before the shooting, the prosecution has alleged that a teacher saw a note on Ethan Crumbley's desk that was "a drawing of a semi-automatic handgun pointing at the words, 'The thoughts won't stop, help me.' In another section of the note was a drawing of a bullet with the following words above that bullet, 'Blood everywhere.'"

The Crumbleys were called to the school over the incident, and said they'd get their son counseling, but did not take him home, prosecutors said.

Prosecutor Marc Keast also alleged Thursday that Jennifer Crumbley privately communicated concerns about Ethan Crumbley with her husband ahead of the shooting.

The defense argued in its opening statements that Jennifer Crumbley had no way to know what was going to happen and that she did not know anything about guns before the shooting.

Smith added that the school did not inform Jennifer Crumbley of her son's problematic issues and said she did not take him home the morning of the shooting because he wanted to stay at school and the school allowed him to remain in class.

Witnesses take the stand

The first two witnesses to take the stand Thursday were educators at Oxford High School, where the shooting took place.

The first, Molly Darnell -- who previously gave testimony in hearings for Ethan Crumbley -- was shot through her left arm. She described "locking eyes" with Ethan through her office door before he fired at her with the bullet injuring her left arm. Darnell also detailed barricading herself in her office until law enforcement came to the door.

Darnell made a makeshift tourniquet out of the cardigan she wore to school that day to stem the bleeding from her arm, she said.

Reacting to a photo of her office door, which contained bullet holes, Darnell told prosecutors, "He was aiming to kill me."

Kristy Marshall, the assistant principal at Oxford High School at the time of the shooting, took the stand as the second witness. Marshall had also previously been the principal at the shooter's elementary school. Marshall described encountering the shooter and one of his victims in the hallway during the rampage and recognizing him from when he was in elementary school.

"It seemed so odd that it was him. I asked him, 'Buddy are you OK? What's going on?' When he didn't respond, he looked away, that's when I knew it was him, he was the shooter," Marshall said.

Prosecutors then played surveillance video from inside Oxford High School during the shooting that could not be broadcast. The video appeared to be so upsetting that both Jennifer Crumbley and Smith started crying, drawing heated objections from the prosecution, which said the defense was defying the judge's order to not show too much emotion in court.

Smith, who claimed she did not cry while the video was playing, demanded a break.

Special agent testifies family had recently visited shooting range

In the afternoon, the prosecution presented a text exchange of Jennifer Crumbley asking her husband if he got a gun and another message in which she asked him how much the gun cost.

Brett Brandon, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified about the family's guns and the safes where they were kept. After being shown footage of the shooter at the shooting range prior to the school shooing, Brandon made note of the shooter's mannerisms and testified that when watching surveillance video, the shooter appeared to have firearm proficiency or had experience using a shooting range.

After the shooter's firearm proficiency was shown based on surveillance footage, additional information revealed the family may have been to a shooting range just prior to the school shooting. Brandon testified he began calling ranges in the area, which led him to a range in Clarkston, Michigan. The range provided multiple receipts and surveillance footage documenting visits by the family.

Brandon testified that a gun safe owned by the Crumbleys had a set combination lock of 0-0-0, which Brandon testified is often the factory default.

Two additional firearms owned by the Crumbleys, not used in the shooting, were kept in that one safe.

Prosecutors also shared a video of Ethan Crumbley holding one of James Crumbley's firearms that was sent from the shooter's phone to one of his friends. After sending the video, he sent a message that said, "My dad left it out so I thought. 'Why not' lol."

Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 years old at the time of the shooting, was sentenced to life without parole in December after he pleaded guilty to 24 charges, including first-degree premeditated murder and terrorism causing death.

Crumbley's parents are accused of allowing Ethan Crumbley access to the gun used in the shooting and failing to recognize warning signs.

During his plea hearing in October 2022, Crumbley admitted in court that he asked his father to buy him a specific gun and confirmed he gave his father money for the gun and that the semi-automatic handgun wasn't kept in a locked safe.

ABC News' Whitney Lloyd contributed to this report.