James Crumbley trial hears he told mass shooter son to just ‘suck it up’ when he said he was hearing voices

Ethan Crumbley texted his friend that he felt like he was ‘mentally and physically dying’ and said that he wanted to ask his parents to go to the doctor again

Kelly Rissman
Thursday 07 March 2024 22:32 GMT
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James Crumbley, the father of the Oxford High School shooter, is on trial in a Michigan courtroom, where jurors were read disturbing messages from Ethan Crumbley in the months leading up to the shooting.

Mr Crumbley has been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter over the November 2021 Oxford High School shooting, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

His wife, Jennifer Crumbley, was convicted on the same charges last month. Both parents have been accused of ignoring their son’s mental health and making a gun easily accessible in their home.

During opening statements on 7 March, the prosecution used the same language as in his wife’s trial, calling the then 15-year-old’s shooting “preventable and foreseeable”, and having two of the same witnesses testify.

Edward Wagrowski, a Secret Service agent who previously worked as a detective and computer crimes analyst for the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, told the court about texts and social media exchanges between the Crumbleys.

In April 2021, Ethan Crumbley messaged a good friend revealing that the high school sophomore complained that he was hearing things. He told his friend that he had alerted his parents to hearing “voices”.

“I actually asked my dad to take [me] to the doctor yesterday but he just gave me some pills and told me to ‘suck it up’,” the teen texted.

Ethan Crumbley then said when he told his mom, she laughed at him, texts showed.

Other messages revealed the shooter told his friend that he felt like he was “mentally and physically dying” and said that he wanted to ask his parents to go to the doctor again.

The jurors also watched videos that the high school sophomore sent his friend in August 2021, which showed him holding a handgun.

In one of the videos, the gun was loaded, Mr Wagrowski testified. That video accompanied another text from Ethan to his friend: “My dad left it out so I thought. ‘Why not’ lol.”

These messages were sent months before the school shooting in November 2021.

The defence will likely have to emphasise the lengths that Mr Crumbley took to keep the gun away from his son if his wife’s trial serves as any precedent about the importance of gun storage. After Jennifer Crumbley’s guilty verdict was read, the jury foreperson explained that the jury’s decision hinged on the fact that she was “the last adult with the gun.”

Mr Crumbley went to the gun store with his son four days before Ethan Crumbley opened fire on his high school, killing four classmates.

In court on 7 March, Mr Wagrowski said one revelation from the 15-year-old’s phone records stood out in particular.

The teenager sent this one friend more than 20,000 texts from January through the end of October. To put matters into perspective, the expert said he has seen phones that have fewer than 20,000 messages on the device in total.

Aside from this one friend, Mr Wagrowski added, messages between Ethan Crumbley and other people totalled less than 1,000 messages.

The prosecutor pointed out that amount is “double” the number of messages sent between Jennifer and James in the same period, which Mr Wagrowski estimated to be 10,000 messages.

The trial was moving at a rapid pace. Both sides had relatively short opening statements compared to the defendant’s wife’s trial. Oakland County assistant prosecutor Marc Keast told jurors in his opening statements: “There are three people responsible for the shooting.”

Echoing the same phrases the prosecution uttered in Jennifer Crumbley’s trial, Mr Keast called the shooting “preventable and foreseeable.” He also claimed the shooter’s parents could have taken “tragically small steps” that may have prevented the tragedy altogether.

The prosecution also accused Mr Crumbley of not assisting his son in receiving proper care for his mental health — despite his alleged awareness of his declining state. Rather than getting Ethan Crumbley “help or intervention of any kind,” Mr Keast said, “James Crumbley instead began taking his son to the shooting range.”

Mr Crumbley’s defence lawyer, Mariell Lehman, told jurors to pay attention to what they won’t hear.

“You will not hear that Mr Crumbley knew what his son was going to do,” she said. “He did not know what his son was planning. He did not purchase that gun with knowledge that his son was going to harm other people.”

Throughout the first day of testimony, Mr Crumbley followed along by wearing over-the-ear headphones. At multiple points, he took off his glasses and wiped his eyes, outwardly affected by hearing the witnesses’ accounts of the disturbing acts his son committed on that fateful November 2021 day.

The trial continues on 8 March at 9am.

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