Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of the teenager who killed four people at a Michigan high school in 2021, admitted under cross-examination at her manslaughter trial that she and her husband gifted their son the firearm later used in the attack.
“We didn’t just hand him a gun as ‘here you go son,’” she testified. “It was something he could use when we went to the (gun) range as a family.”
She testified a day earlier that she entrusted her husband with securing the firearm. However, she admitted under cross-examination that she did not trust her husband to get out of bed in the morning, mow the lawn to her liking or update her on his whereabouts.
“But this is the person you entrusted with a deadly weapon?” Oakland County assistant prosecutor Marc Keast asked.
“I did,” she said.
The cross-examination came toward the end of Jennifer Crumbley’s trial on four counts of involuntary manslaughter for her role in the November 30, 2021, mass shooting at Oxford High School, which left four students dead and seven others wounded.
After she completed her cross-examination Friday, the defense rested its case, and the prosecution and defense then followed with closing arguments. The jury was dismissed for the day and will return on Monday for instructions and deliberations.
Jennifer Crumbley’s husband, James, is scheduled to go on trial on the same charges in early March.
The case represents an unusual and novel legal strategy to try to hold the parents of a school shooter personally accountable and stem the scourge of mass shootings in America.
The prosecution has argued she is responsible for the deaths because she was “grossly negligent” in giving her then 15-year-old son a gun as a gift and failing to get him proper mental health treatment despite warning signs. The prosecution rested its case Thursday after about a week of testimony from shooting victims, law enforcement officials, school officials and those who knew Jennifer Crumbley.
However, the defense has argued that the blame lay elsewhere: On her husband for improperly securing the firearm; on the school for failing to notify her about her son’s behavioral issues; and on Ethan himself, who actually pulled the trigger. Jennifer Crumbley, the only witness called, expressed no regret.
“I’ve asked myself if I would have done anything differently, and I wouldn’t have,” she testified Thursday.
What they said in closing arguments
In closing arguments Friday, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald contrasted Jennifer Crumbley’s comments about firearms on the stand with her previous statements at a police substation.
“At the substation, it’s all ‘we’ – it’s ‘We take him to the range, it’s our hobby, we go to the gun range, that’s what we do. We just got him this gun,’” McDonald said. “Sitting here today, it’s all James’ fault.”
She said Jennifer Crumbley could have done any number of minor things the morning of the shooting that would have prevented the attack.
“She could’ve taken him home. She could have taken him to work,” McDonald said. “She could’ve told the school that they just gifted him a gun.”
“Just the smallest thing could’ve saved Hana and Tate and Justin and Madisyn. The smallest of things.”
McDonald said the shooter’s mother was trying to get the jury to “believe she’s somebody she’s not.”
“You know what she’s not? She’s not somebody that used ordinary care to prevent what was foreseeable, reasonably foreseeable, that could have happened – injury or death – and it did,” she said.
“It’s a rare case that takes some really egregious facts,” she added. “It takes the unthinkable, and she has done the unthinkable, and because of that, four kids have died.”
In her closing arguments, defense attorney Shannon Smith spoke to the jury on a personal level as a mother of four, saying this case was “a very dangerous one for parents.” She said she, like Jennifer Crumbley, had sent and received texts with her kids that would look bad if taken out of context.
“Can every parent really be responsible for everything their children do, especially when it’s not foreseeable?” she asked.
“I am asking that you find Jennifer Crumbley not guilty, not just for Jennifer Crumbley, but for every mother who’s out there doing the best they can and could easily be in her shoes. For every parent doing the best they can who could easily be in their shoes,” Smith added.
Finally, in the prosecution’s rebuttal, McDonald asked the jury to put aside the defense’s personal statements.
“Your job is not to consider what lawyers say about their own life and their own circumstances in their opinion,” she said. “Your job is to consider the facts and evidence in this case.”
Mother places blame on husband, school
On cross-examination Friday, the prosecution sought to portray Jennifer Crumbley as an inattentive mother, focused more on her horses and her extramarital affair than on her son’s well-being.
She acknowledged that in a meeting on the morning of the shooting, she did not tell school employees who were concerned about her son’s well-being that she and her husband had recently gifted him a gun. “I didn’t think it was relevant, no,” she testified.
Over several hours Thursday, Jennifer Crumbley testified her husband was responsible for securing the gun he had purchased for their son on Black Friday as a Christmas gift.
“I just didn’t feel comfortable being in charge of that. It was more his thing, so I let him handle that. I didn’t feel comfortable putting the lock thing on it,” she said.
She also testified her son had never asked her to get help for mental health issues, contrary to his private journal writings and texts to a friend. She said he expressed some anxiety about taking tests and what he would do after high school, “but not to a level where I felt he needed to go see a psychiatrist or mental health professional right away.”
She acknowledged her son had sent a number of texts about seeing ghosts and claimed their house was haunted, but she testified he was not being serious.
“It was just him messing around,” she testified.
She also testified she did not know about internal school emails discussing her son’s concerning behavior before the shooting on November 30, 2021. And she said when she was called into the school hours before the shooting to discuss Ethan’s disturbing drawings on a math worksheet, school employees were “nonchalant” about the incident and allowed him to stay in class.
Unbeknownst to those in the meeting, Ethan Crumbley had hidden a firearm in his backpack. Later that day, he took the gun out and opened fire on his classmates.
Overall, her testimony on Thursday focused on portraying her as a regular mother who balanced a full-time marketing job with taking care of the house, playing board games with her son and traveling on family vacations. She trusted her son, she said, and did not go through his text messages.
“As a parent you spend your whole life trying to protect your child from other dangers,” Jennifer Crumbley testified. “You never would think you have to protect your child from harming someone else. That’s what blew my mind. That was the hardest thing I had to stomach was that my child harmed and killed other people.”
Ethan Crumbley pleaded guilty to one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of murder and 19 other charges related to the deadly rampage. He was sentenced last year to life in prison without parole.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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