Crime

Jennifer Crumbley denies son had discipline problems before shooting

Jennifer Crumbley is facing involuntary manslaughter charges after her son killed four students in a 2021 shooting at Oxford High School.

Jennifer Crumbley speaks on the defense stand.
Detroit Free Press / AP
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Testimony is underway in the trial of a Michigan school shooter's mother, who took the stand as the defense's first witness Thursday afternoon after the prosecution rested its case.

Jennifer Crumbley is facing up to 60 years in prison for her alleged role in the 2021 Oxford High School shooting that left four students dead and seven people injured. She's charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, and her husband, James Crumbley, will stand trial on the same charges in March.

In December, the couple's 17-year-old son was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the shooting. He previously pleaded guilty to 24 charges, including first-degree murder and terrorism.

The Crumbleys are believed to be the first parents of a school shooter to stand trial on allegations that they caused their son's actions through gross negligence or by willfully disregarding the threat he posed to others by failing to act on signs that he may be dangerous. 

Prosecutors point to evidence of which the Crumbleys should have allegedly been aware regarding their son's mental state and actions.

Meanwhile, the defense claims the parents had no idea their son was planning a shooting and could not have foreseen his actions. They also dispute they made the firearm easy to find in their home. 

Michigan school shooter gets life in prison for killing 4 students
Michigan school shooter gets life in prison for killing 4 students

Michigan school shooter gets life in prison for killing 4 students

Crumbley pleaded guilty to 24 charges including first-degree murder and terrorism.

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In Jennifer's ongoing defense Thursday, the defense has so far focused on rebutting the prosecution's arguments that she was not focused on her son. She testified that they played games as a family and would spend time together, as the court was shown family vacation photos from Facebook.

Jennifer also testified about a six-month affair she'd had with a friend she'd known since high school but got close to in the horse community.

Regarding her son, she testified that the only discipline problems they had with him was over missed assignments in school which caused him to get bad grades. She said that as a result of these, they would punish him by taking away his phone and his video games.

As for the gun used in the shooting — which prosecutors say the Crumbleys gave to their son, failing to exercise "reasonable care" to prevent him from intentionally harming others with it — Jennifer testified her husband purchased the gun as a Christmas present for her son while the two shopped together on Black Friday; she said she was shopping elsewhere at the time.

The prosecution's evidence had already made clear James had purchased the gun used in the shooting three days prior and gifted it to his son, despite signing a form acknowledging that it was illegal to buy a firearm for someone else.

The mother testified that despite guns not really being her "thing," she and the shooter went to the gun range together the day after getting the gun because he asked her if she wanted to go. She testified it was the first time they had gone alone.

She testified that her husband had unlocked the gun and placed it into the back of her car for the trip to the gun range, as she did not know where either it or the key were stored in the house. She said James would hide the gun in various places in their room and then store the key for the cable lock in one of the beer steins that the couple had throughout the house. She also testified that she did not know which beer stein the key would be in and that she was not sure if the shooter knew either.

After the shooting range visit, Jennifer testified that she brought the bullets back into the house but left the gun in her car, saying her husband retrieved it and hid it in the house later that day.

The defense then addressed text messages that the prosecution has said showed the shooter was exhibiting mental problems, including one that referenced the house being haunted. Jennifer testified that they seemed to her like her son was messing with her and joking around. 

She also testified that she was not aware of texts her son had sent to a friend saying he was asking his parents for help, as she did not go through his phone, and that her son did not approach her to ask to see a doctor.

Months before the shooting, the prosecution has said her son reported hallucinations to his parents and asked for help. They said he told a friend that Jennifer laughed at him and that James told him to "suck it up" when he asked to see a doctor.

On Thursday, Jennifer testified that the friend — who appeared in the many of the family vacation photos shown and who she described as the only one of her son's friends who would come over to their house — had suddenly been sent to an OCD treatment facility in Wisconsin right before the shootings.

The testimony then moved onto the day of the school shooting at Oxford and how Jennifer and James had been called to the school for a meeting, which was sparked by drawings on a geometry assignment. 

Oxford High School shooting report released; here are the findings
Oxford High School shooting report released; here are the findings

Oxford High School shooting report released; here are the findings

The 572-page report answers what district officials may have known about the shooter before he killed four students and wounded seven others in 2021.

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The prosecution said the Crumbleys were called to the high school to meet with a counselor after staff caught their son watching a shooting video on his phone then found his disturbing drawings and writings. 

Jennifer testified that she felt the drawings were a message to her because they had argued the night before about him getting an E in geometry. This led to them taking away his phone and telling him that he couldn't go to the shooting range until his grades went back up.

Jennifer testified she was a little concerned when she saw the original drawing. She said she tried to get in contact with James to go to the school because he was working in the area but headed there herself when she couldn't reach him. While on her way, he called her back, and they both decided to go to the school together. 

The prosecution said the counselor they met at the school recommended the teen be removed from school and that they seek immediate medical attention, but the Crumbleys refused. Two hours later, the shooter opened fire, killing Madisyn Baldwin, Justin Shilling, Tate Myre and Hana St. Juliana. 

Jennifer testified about that meeting, saying she did not feel she was taking a position on leaving her son at the school, and that "there was never a time where I would refuse" to take him home. She also said that the school gave them a list of counselors and that as they were leaving, she told James to start making calls.

At the end of the meeting, she said she went back to work, James went back to working at DoorDash and her son went back to class. She said she did not think it was an abrupt end to the meeting, just that it had concluded by itself based on what was being said.