Mother of Michigan school shooter denies any responsibility but wishes son had 'killed us instead'
PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — The mother of a Michigan school shooter testified in her own defense Thursday, denying any responsibility for the deaths of four students but also wishing her son would have “killed us instead.”
“I don't want to say that I'm a victim because I don't want to disrespect those families that truly are the victims on this,” Jennifer Crumbley told the jury. “But we did lose a lot.”
“You lost everything,” attorney Shannon Smith said.
“We did,” Crumbley replied at the end of an afternoon of testimony in which she rejected blame for the gun used by her son Ethan Crumbley and denied claims that she ignored his mental health.
Jennifer Crumbley, 45, and husband James, 47, are accused of making a gun accessible at home and not addressing their son's mental care. They are the first parents in the U.S. to be charged in a mass school shooting committed by their child.
Ethan Crumbley pulled a handgun from his backpack and shot 11 people on Nov. 30, 2021, killing four.
The attack came a few hours after school staff summoned his parents to a meeting to discuss a violent drawing on a math assignment. The Crumbleys declined to take him home, and the shooting ensued.
“As a parent you spend your whole life trying to protect your child from other dangers,” Jennifer Crumbley told the jury. “You never would think you have to protect your child from harming someone else. That's what blew my mind.”
“I have asked myself if I would have done anything differently. I wouldn’t have. I wish he would have killed us instead,” she said.
Crumbley took the stand after days of unflattering evidence about her meeting at the school, an extramarital affair, a deep concern about the welfare of her horses after the tragedy, and the emptying of a $3,000 bank account with her son's name on it.
She said she had no role in buying or storing the handgun used by her son and instead shifted responsibility to her husband, who will face trial on the same involuntary manslaughter charges in March.
“I just didn’t feel comfortable being in charge of that. It was his thing,” Jennifer Crumbley said of her husband, turning to jurors as she spoke.
Ethan was with his father when the 9mm handgun was purchased just four days earlier on Black Friday. Jennifer Crumbley took her son to a shooting range and posted photos about the trip on social media.
But she otherwise denied any role in handling or storing the gun. She said the gun was kept in a locked box with a key kept in a beer stein.
Jennifer Crumbley spoke clearly and calmly for more than two hours, in contrast to her sobbing when video of the shooting was played in court. She apologized to the jury for her neck and chest turning red and hoped she wouldn’t break out in hives.
Prosecutors last week presented Ethan Crumbley's own text messages from spring 2021 in which he told his mom that “demons” were “throwing bowls” and clothes were “flying off the shelf” at home. It was presented as evidence of hallucinations.
But Jennifer Crumbley said it was “just Ethan messing around.”
“He’s been convinced our house has been haunted since 2015,” she said, adding that her son called the ghost “Boris Johnson.”
Earlier in the day, an investigator read portions of Ethan's journal to the jury.
“I have zero help for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up the ... school,” Ethan, then 15, wrote.
“My parents won’t listen to me about help or therapist,” the boy said.
But Jennifer Crumbley said she saw no mental health problems.
“There were a couple of times when Ethan expressed anxiety over taking tests,” she said. “Anxiety about what he was going to do after high school — college? military? But not at the level where I felt he needed to see a psychiatrist or a mental health professional.”
Smith, the defense lawyer, renewed her call for Ethan Crumbley to be brought to court to be challenged about his journal and other evidence. But Judge Cheryl Matthews said no, noting that the teen's lawyers have indicated that he would invoke his right to remain silent.
Ethan Crumbley, now 17, is serving a life sentence that will likely be appealed.
A meeting between school staff and the Crumbleys a few hours before the shooting has been a key point in the case.
The parents were presented with a disturbing drawing their son had scrawled on an assignment. It depicted a gun and bullet and the lines, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. The world is dead. My life is useless.”
Jennifer Crumbley said she “felt concerned” and figured her son would be suspended.
A counselor and school administrator both said they urged the parents to get him into mental health care as soon as possible. They said the Crumbleys, however, declined to take him home, citing the need to return to work.
Jennifer Crumbley offered a different take.
“We agreed it might stress him out more to do school remotely (at home) the rest of the day,” she testified. “There was never a time where I would refuse to take him home if he wanted to go.”
She said she told her husband to “start making calls” to mental health providers after his DoorDash runs.
Ethan returned to class and began shooting later that day. No one had checked his backpack for a gun.