March 23 (UPI) — The parents of Ethan Crumbley, the teenager who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a 2021 mass shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan, must stand trial for involuntary manslaughter for the deaths caused by their son, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
Ethan Crumbley, then 15 years old, killed four students and injured seven other people, including a teacher, while armed with a semi-automatic handgun in November 2021. He pleaded guilty to four charges of first-degree murder in October.
James and Jennifer Crumbley have been charged by state prosecutors with four counts of involuntary manslaughter but have argued that allowing them to stand trial could set a precedent for other parents to be held accountable for crimes committed by their children, according to the ruling.
The judges on the appeals court panel acknowledged in the ruling that they “share defendants’ concern” but that the actions of their son were “reasonably foreseeable” which “is the ultimate test that must be applied.”
History of problems
In its explanation for why the panel believed the actions of Ethan Crumbley were foreseeable, the test used by the court to determine whether his parents could stand trial, the judges pointed to text messages he sent his mother earlier that year urging her to come home because he believed someone to be in the house with him.
“Someone walked into the bathroom and flushed the toilet and left the light on,” Ethan Crumbley wrote in the text message. “I thought it was you, but when I came out there was no one home.”
The judges noted how, a week after those messages, the troubled teen sent a message to his mother “reflecting his belief that a demon was in the house, that it was throwing objects inside the house, and that he had taken a picture of it,” according to the court records.
Text messages between Jennifer and James Crumbley showed the two parents discussing their son’s odd behavior and demeanor, describing him as “really worked up and out of control.”
“I cleaned until the clothes started flying off the shelf. …. This stuff only happens when I’m home alone,” Ethan Crumbley said in text messages to his mother in March of that year, more than eight months before the shooting. “I picked the clothes back up, though.”
Ethan’s pleas for help
The panel also noted how Ethan Crumbley had discussed seeking psychiatric treatment from his parents in conversations with his best friend, who was not named in the ruling.
“While many of the messages contained normal teenage banter, others involved conversations about wanting guns and making plans to buy them,” the ruling reads. “For instance, three months before the shooting, EC sent his friend an 11-second video showing him loading a magazine into a .22-caliber Kel-Tec handgun registered to James.”
The panel noted how text messages between Jennifer and James Crumbley during the month of October that year “showed no indication that they considered finding help” for their son, who discussed his belief he was having a mental breakdown in conversations with his friend.
“Near the end of October, [Ethan Crumbley’s] conversations with his friend via text message stopped. Then the Crumbley family dog and one of [Ethan Crumbley’s] grandparents, died,” the ruling reads.
The judges acknowledged in the ruling’s footnotes that there is no evidence that either Jennifer or James Crumbley had seen the text messages between their son and his friend, but still described their child as “weird” apparently without seeking psychiatric care for him.
Ethan Crumbley, around this time, kept a journal that his parents “were aware of” in which he wrote about plans to commit “the biggest school shooting in Michigan’s history” while first targeting a “pretty girl with a future so she can suffer like me,” according to the ruling.
“My parents won’t listen to me about help or a therapist,” Ethan Crumbley wrote in his journal, according to the ruling. “I have zero help for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up the [expletive] school.”
Buying a handgun
Despite his apparent mental problems, James Crumbley took his son to purchase a 9mm SIG Sauer handgun on Nov. 26, four days before the deadly shooting. Later that day, Ethan Crumbley posted photographs and a video of that handgun on Instagram.
Jennifer Crumbley took her son to the gun range the next day, which Ethan Crumbley posted about on social media later that day.
Two days later, Jennifer Crumbley performed an internet search on treatment options for clinical depression as her son was in school looking at photographs of handgun ammunition on his phone — sparking a visit with school officials. “Seriously? Looking up bullets in school??” Jennifer Crumbley texted her son that morning after receiving a voicemail about the meeting.
She then pressed her son on whether he showed school officials photographs of his new gun during the meeting.
“I’m not mad. You have to learn not to get caught,” Jennifer Crumbley said in a message to her son.
The morning of the shooting
On the morning of the shooting, Ethan Crumbley was caught by his English teacher watching a video of a shooting on his cell phone who sent an email notifying school administrators.
Ethan Crumbley then switched to his math class, where his teacher photographed a worksheet the teen had turned and sent it to school administrators. On the worksheet, Crumbley wrote that “the thoughts won’t stop help me” and “blood everywhere” with a drawing of a handgun.
Administrators met with Crumbley again and he “became sad and started discussing his various troubles in life, specifically mentioning his friend moving away, difficulty dealing with the restrictions put in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and his dog and grandparent dying,” the ruling reads.
The Crumbleys were called to the school where they met with their son and the school’s counselor, Shawn Hopkins, who insisted that the couple immediately get treatment for Ethan that day.
“Because there was no disciplinary issue requiring [Ethan] to leave school, the decision was made for [him] to remain at school,” the ruling reads.
“Hopkins believed it was good that EC would not be alone, considering the concerns about suicidal ideation.”
Jennifer and James Crumbley walked out of the school around 10:54 a.m. Jennifer Crumbley texted her son around 12:21 p.m. asking him if he was OK.
“You know, you can talk to us and we won’t judge,” the mother wrote.
“IK. Thank you. I’m sorry for that. I love you,” Ethan Crumbley wrote.
In less than 10 minutes after sending that message, Ethan Crumbley took out the SIG Sauer handgun and began shooting.