PONTIAC, Mich. — The groundbreaking trial of the mother of a Michigan school shooter to determine if she should be held responsible for the deaths of 4 students came to a close on Friday with a prosecutor urged jurors to convict. The recommendation came with the reminder that the Jennifer Crumbley had been confronted the same day of the tragedy with her son’s violent drawing.
“He literally drew a picture of what he was going to do. It says, ‘Help me,’” prosecutor Karen McDonald said during final arguments in suburban Detroit.
Jennifer Crumbley, 45, and husband James, 47, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter. They are facing accusations of making a gun accessible at home as well as failing to address Ethan Crumbley’s mental health. The Crumbleys are the first parents in the U.S. to be charged in a mass school shooting committed by their child.
Jury deliberations for Jennifer Crumbley are scheduled to begin today (Monday) once the judge has given instructions.
James Crumbley will stand trial in March. Ethan, 15 at the time of the shooting, did plead guilty to murder and is currently serving a life prison sentence for killing four students at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021.
Michigan law states that parents have a reasonable obligation to prevent their child from harming or being a risk to others, McDonald told the jury at the close of seven days of testimony.
“It’s going to take unique, egregious, incomprehensible facts — and that’s what we have here,” she said.
“Just the smallest — the smallest — of things could have saved Hana and Tate and Madisyn and Justin,” McDonald said, referring to the four victims by their first names. “And not only did she not do it, she doesn’t even regret it.”
Two key events were of prominent focus during the trial: the purchase of a 9 mm Sig Sauer handgun on Black Friday, four days before the school attack, in addition to a crucial meeting at the school on the morning of the shooting when a teacher discovered a violent drawing on Ethan’s math assignment.
It is undisputed that James Crumbley, accompanied by Ethan, purchased a firearm, and Jennifer Crumbley subsequently bought 100 rounds of ammunition during a visit to a shooting range. She and her son took turns firing the gun then returned home with 50 rounds during the long Thanksgiving weekend.
“She posted on social media it was (Ethan’s) Christmas gift. … It was gifted to him and not only was it gifted to him, she bragged about it,” McDonald said.
The prosecutor highlighted that Jennifer Crumbley had texted her husband using the words “emergency” and “I’m very concerned” after the school shared their son’s disturbing drawing and requested they attend the school for a meeting.
The drawing in question depicted a gun that resembled the Sig Sauer, a bullet, a wounded person and the lines, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. The world is dead. My life is useless.”
Despite this, the Crumbleys didn’t take Ethan home from school and never disclosed to staff about the new gun or hallucinations he had been having months earlier when he told his mom about “demons” at the house and clothes “flying off the shelf.”
Jennifer Crumbley downplayed it, telling the jury it was “just Ethan messing around.”
“I have asked myself if I would have done anything differently. I wouldn’t have. I wish he would have killed us instead,” she testified Thursday.
A counselor and school administrator both stated that they had urged the parents to get him into mental health care as soon as possible. Ethan did return to class and began shooting later that day. It was reported that no one had checked his backpack for a gun.
“I’m not going to say it’s OK they didn’t look in the backpack,” McDonald said of school staff. “But this is Jennifer Crumbley’s actions. … (Staff) did not have any of the information that was so jarring. It’s about what she knew and what she didn’t say.”
Defense attorney Shannon Smith commenced her closing argument in what is being described as an unusual way. She referred to her own family and wondered aloud what her criminal liability would be if one of her kids were to take a kitchen knife and attack a friend.
“This case is a very dangerous one for parents out there. … Can every parent really be responsible for everything their children do?” Smith said. “This was not foreseeable to Mrs. Crumbley.”
Smith also accused prosecutors of giving “cherry-picked” evidence to the jury.
“When you get cherry-picked bits of evidence, it’s easy to reach wrong conclusions,” the attorney said.
Smith stated that no one buys a gun for a child who has a mental illness.
“The Crumbleys’ son was a skilled manipulator, and they didn’t realize it,” she said. “He’s not sick. He doesn’t have a mental illness.”
Despite these assertions, portions of his journal, displayed to the jury, revealed desperation.
“I have zero help for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up the … school,” Ethan wrote.
“My parents won’t listen to me about help or therapist,” the boy said.
McDonald’s last remark to the jury on Friday was a reference to Jennifer Crumbley agreeing with her lawyer that she had “lost everything” because of the extraordinary violence and criminal cases.
“She hasn’t lost everything, ladies and gentlemen. Her son is still alive,” the prosecutor said.
The Crumbley parents were located in a Detroit art studio four days after the shooting and 12 hours after charges were filed against them. They had more than $6,000 with them as well as and plastic bins filled with clothes and other possessions. They denied they were trying to flee.
— with files from wsbt.com