Ethan Crumbley opened fire at Oxford High School, in suburban Detroit, when he was 15 years old, killing four of his classmates and wounding seven others. In December, he was sentenced to life without parole after pleading guilty to the 24 counts against him, including first-degree murder.
His parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, were charged with involuntary manslaughter and are being tried separately. They are the first parents in America to be charged for their alleged role in a mass school shooting; if convicted, they could each face up to 15 years in prison.
James Crumbley’s trial will begin in March, while Jennifer Crumbley’s trial is now underway.
Both sides are painting very different pictures of the shooter’s mother.
The prosecution argued that she was well aware of her son’s “deteriorating mental health” and despite this, she and her husband bought him a gun and took him to a gun range.
“They weren’t in a car crash. They weren’t sick. They were murdered in an act of terror committed by Jennifer Crumbley’s 15-year-old son,” Oakland County assistant prosecutor Marc Keast said in opening statements.
“Jennifer Crumbley didn’t pull the trigger that day. But she’s responsible for their deaths,” he added.
Ethan Crumbley was in a “downward spiral” when the gun was purchased, and his mother knew that the prosecutor said. Still, “this gun was gifted”, he added.
“They didn’t do any number of tragically small and easy things that would have prevented all this from happening,” the attorney said of the parents, calling the tragedy “senseless”.
He also accused Ms Crumbley of trying to “downplay and downright lie” about her knowledge of what was going on with her son. Her “first instinct was to lie, second was to run”, he said.
This trial is about her “willful disregard of the danger that she knew of”, he said.
The defence, on the other hand, insisted that her son’s mental condition was “not on her radar”, emphasised her husband’s love of guns, placed blame on the school, and described her as a “hypervigilant” mother.
Defence attorney Shannon Smith then quoted Taylor Swift in her opening statements and used the line “Band-Aids don’t stop bullet holes” from “Bad Blood.”
She said this case was about the prosecution “attempting to put a Band-Aid on problems that can’t be fixed with a Band-Aid”.
“A Band-Aid will never bring back the lives that were lost,” she added.
“Everyone in this courtroom agrees that on 3 November 3 2021, the worst possible thing happened when Ethan Crumbley used a gun and terrorised the Oxford High School.”
She said Ms Crumbley didn’t “have it on her radar in any way that there was any mental disturbance, that her son would ever take a gun into a school, that her son would ever shoot people”.
The defence tried to portray Ms Crumbley as an attentive mother. Evidence will show that Jennifer Crumbley is a “hypervigilant mother who cared more about her son than anything in the world”, her attorney said.
She took Ethan to soccer practice, basketball, and bowling, and even took him to urgent care when a 1mm mole changed colours, the defence said.
Jennifer “didn’t know anything about guns”, the defence said, claiming her husband loved guns, adding that they owned three firearms.
The defence argued that Ms Crumbley was not responsible for the storage of the gun “and not even knowing where the gun was placed”. Her husband “had hid the gun in the bedroom of their home”, she said. “James Crumbley had a key to the trigger lock that kept the gun secure.”
Her husband placed the gun in the car for her even when she and her son went to a shooting range, where her son showed her how to use a gun, the attorney explained.
She also addressed the meeting with concerned school officials on the day of the shooting, in which they suggested – but not insisted – the sophomore go home. It “caused him great anxiety to miss school” so she encouraged him to stay in school that day, the lawyer said, highlighting that the school gave her an option.
Hours later, her son opened fire at his high school.
Later that day, when the mother looked her son in the eyes at the substation, “his eyes looked black. It was a son she did not recognise”, the defence attorney said.
Her son “did something she could have never anticipated, fathomed, or predicted”, the defence said. “Her son had not been her son for months.”
The school didn’t tell her about “problematic issues” and gave a series of examples: when he tried to sleep in class, when he failed a test, an index card the shooter wrote in class with a drawing “of a loaded gun magazine”, his meeting with the school counsellor, in which the shooter said, “he was having a tough time”.
She told the jury that they would see that the shooting was “absolutely not foreseeable and absolutely not expected”.
The trial began on 23 January and jury selection was completed on Wednesday.