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Their son carried out a school shooting in Michigan. Now they’re on trial, too

Ethan Crumbley was sentenced to life for murdering four and injuring seven others in the Oxford High School shooting in suburban Detroit. Now his parents face a historic trial of their own.

Jennifer and James Crumbley are the first parents in US history to be charged and tried for their alleged role in a mass school shooting.

The parents were each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. They have pleaded not guilty.

The pair are being tried separately. Jennifer Crumbley’s trial is underway, just one month after her son was convicted and sentenced to life without a possibility of parole.

James Crumbley’s trial is slated to begin in March.

Here’s what we know about the historic trial:

Why are they on trial?

The parents face four counts of involuntary manslaughter, accused of ignoring his mental health condition and making the gun accessible at home.

Four days before the shooting on 30 November 2021, James bought his son a gun, which Ethan described on Instagram as his “new beauty”.

Jennifer then took her son to a shooting range.

A few days later, a teacher noticed the high school sophomore searching online for ammunition, sparking concerned school administrators to contact his parents.

Instead of responding to the school, his mother allegedly texted her son: “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”

On the day of the shooting, a teacher found a disturbing drawing on Ethan’s desk depicting a school massacre, featuring a semi-automatic handgun pointing at the words “the thoughts won’t stop help me”, prosecutors said.

The school staff then met with Ethan and his parents.

Although the school staff urged Ethan to seek psychiatric help that day and to go home early, his parents rejected the idea and the school didn’t require him to leave.

Later that day, their son opened fire, taking the lives of four classmates: Madisyn Baldwin, 17, Hana St. Juliana, 14, Tate Myre, 16, and Justin Shilling, 17.

After hearing reports of the shooting at Oxford High, Jennifer allegedly sent a text to Ethan that read, “Ethan, don’t do it,” as James drove directly home and reported his gun missing.

What’s happening in Jennifer Crumbley’s trial?

Jennifer’s trial began on 23 January.

In their opening statements, the prosecution and defence portrayed two very different versions of the shooter’s mother.

The prosecution argued that Jennifer understood that her son was experiencing a “downward spiral”, but still, the “gun was gifted”.

This trial is about her “willful disregard of the danger that she knew of”, the prosecutor said, adding that Jennifer and her husband “didn’t do any number of tragically small and easy things that would have prevented all this from happening”.

“Jennifer Crumbley didn’t pull the trigger that day. But she’s responsible for their deaths,” the attorney said.

The defence team, by contrast, described Jennifer as a “hypervigilant” mother who “cared more about her son than anything in the world”.

She took her son to soccer practice, basketball, bowling, and even took him to urgent care when a 1mm mole changed colours, the defence said.

Despite this claim, the attorney insisted that her client 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.”

While the prosecution is emphasising her role in the massacre, the defence underscored her husband’s love of guns. Her attorney said Jennifer “didn’t know anything about guns,” or how they were stored. When she took her son to the shooting range, he showed her how to use the weapon, the lawyer said.

On 25 January, witnesses of the shootings took the stand. The shooter’s mother broke down in tears listening to their accounts of the tragic day.

Who are the Crumbleys?

Jennifer, 45, worked in marketing at a real estate firm and James, 47, worked for DoorDash, according to court documents.

During the meeting with Ethan and school administrators who suggested he leave school early hours before the shooting, filings suggest that Jennifer cited their jobs as reasons why he couldn’t come home.

The pair initially came under scrutiny for their strange behaviour in the aftermath of the shooting. Reports showed the couple drained their son’s bank account.

They withdrew cash, sold their horses, and bought four burner phones in the hours after finding out that their son had opened fire.

When they were arrested four days after the shooting, the couple reportedly had $6,600 in cash, credit cards, gift cards and four phones.

At the time, the Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said that “they started making plans”.

Jennifer texted someone that “she needed to sell her horses fast” and the couple “drained their son’s bank account” later that day, taking out $3,000 and leaving a mere 99 cents, Ms McDonald said.

The pair also checked into a hotel. The defence attorney told the jury on 25 January that the Crumbleys had been receiving “death threats” at their home, so they went to a hotel to seek refuge.

Fearful, the pair bought burner phones. The defence lawyer also explained to jurors that they bought two pairs of burner phones because they couldn’t access their bank accounts with their original burners, since they weren’t able to do the necessary two-factor authentication.

The Crumbleys then stayed at an artist studio, belonging to Jennifer’s friend, where they were arrested the next day, on 4 December. They were supposed to have turned themselves in on the afternoon of 3 December, but failed to do so, resulting in a manhunt.

The defence attorney told the court that the couple “weren’t hiding,” but “waiting for instructions” and they were “waiting to turn themselves in first thing Saturday morning, when arraignments take place”.