October 6, 2022

Parents told teen to ‘suck it up’ when he asked for mental health help before school shooting, police testify

ROCHESTER HILLS, MI — Months before Ethan R. Crumbley was accused of opening fire on his classmates in the hallways of Oxford High School, killing four of them, he told a friend he was in the grips of a mental breakdown and needed help. When he told his parents, they rebuffed him, told him to “suck it up” and laughed at him, Ethan told his friend.

In his journal, near drawings of guns and people being shot, Ethan wrote he had “zero help for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up a (expletive) school.” He wrote that he hoped the massacre would be the biggest in Michigan’s history.

Deputies with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office testified to these details during the Feb. 24 continuation of a preliminary examination for Ethan’s parents, James R. and Jennifer L. Crumbley, who were ultimately bound over to Circuit Court.

The parents are each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, a 15-year felony, for allegedly being criminally negligent in not preventing the Nov. 30 mass shooting, which police and prosecutors say was carried out by their 15-year-old sophomore son.

The shooting killed students Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17. Six more students and a teacher also suffered gunshot wounds.

The hearing began Feb. 8 before Oakland County District Judge Julie A. Nicholson. On that day, Detective Edward Wagrowski testified he had extracted photos, videos, call logs and messages from the Crumbleys’ phones, in addition to analyzing social media posts, school surveillance videos and 911 calls connected to the shooting investigation.

On Thursday, Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Marc Keast asked Wagrowski if the voluminous text messages between the parents contained any discussions about getting help for Ethan, such as taking him to a therapist or a doctor. Wagrowski said they did not.

On April 5, Ethan messaged a friend that his mom thought he was taking drugs and doesn’t worry about his mental health. “They make me feel like I’m the problem,” Ethan messaged his friend, according to Wagrowski. “My mom makes everyone feel like a piece of (expletive).”

Ethan also mentioned experiencing hallucinations, Wagrowski sad.

“Like I hear people talking to me and see someone in the distance,” Ethan messaged his friend. “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. Like it’s at the point where I’m asking to go to the doctor. My mom laughed when I told her.”

Ethan told his friend he was experiencing a mental breakdown: “I need help. I was thinking about calling 911 so I could go to the hospital, but then my parents would be really pissed.”

Prior to Keast’s questioning Wagrowski on Thursday, defense attorney Shannon Smith cross-examined the detective. She began by asking the detective about a voicemail left on Jennifer Crumbley’s phone on Nov. 29 by a staffer at Ethan’s school, telling her Ethan was caught in class looking up bullets on his cellphone.

“You can call me back. Otherwise, have a great holiday,” the staffer said on the voicemail, according to Smith.

“The exhibit with the voicemail did not require or even ask for a callback from Mrs. Crumbley, correct?” Smith asked.

“Correct,” Wagrowski replied.

After listening to the voicemail, Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, “Seriously, looking up bullets in school??” Her son replied that it was “completely harmless” and that he did not want to get in trouble, Smith said.

Jennifer Crumbley texted her son comments along the lines of, “Are you OK? You know we won’t judge you,” Smith said.

The morning of the shooting, Jennifer Crumbley was contacted by the school about her son having made disturbing drawings and written troubling phrases on his homework and messaged her husband via Facebook Messenger, “CALL NOW. Emergency,” along with photos of the doodles, Smith said.

“My God. WTF,” James Crumbley responded, Smith said. Jennifer Crumbley then messaged her husband that she was going to the school and was “very concerned,” Smith said.

Smith asked the detective if it was true that throughout the couple’s messages, there is nothing indicating they believed their son was homicidal or would hurt others. Wagrowski said that was indeed true.

Jennifer Crumbley’s phone records indicate she searched “clinical depression treatment options” on the morning of Nov. 30, though nothing indicated whom she was searching on behalf of, Wagrowski said. There were no searches along the lines of what to do with a dangerous child, he said.

In messages to his friend, Ethan did not state a plan or desire to shoot up his school, Wagrowski said. On Aug. 20, though, Ethan sent a message to his friend about his father having left a gun unattended.

“He says, ‘Now it’s time to shoot up the school,’ then, in capital letters, J/K J/K J/K J/K J/K,” Smith said, noting that “J/K” is slang for “just kidding.” Ethan sent no similar messages to his parents, Wagrowski said.

Questioned by defense attorney Mariell R. Lehman, the detective said there were no messages from Ethan to his parents asking for mental help.

When the Crumbleys arrived for the Nov. 30 meeting at school, they acted unusual for parents in such a situation, Shawn Hopkins, a counselor with Oxford High School since 2015, said.

“It was different than other meetings I’ve seen,” he said. “They weren’t friendly or showing care toward the student … their son.”

The parents did not greet, hug, or touch Ethan, the counselor said. Hopkins provided them a list of mental health resources, saying he was concerned for their son’s well-being and that he needed help as early as that day. Jennifer Crumbley replied that day wasn’t an option as she had to return to work, Hopkins said.

“I was a little bit taken aback by that,” the counselor said. “When the parents stated that they could not take their student home that day, my statement was, ‘I want him seen within 48 hours.’ I didn’t have a reason to believe it wouldn’t happen. I didn’t feel 100% confident that it would.”

At that point, Hopkins’ primary concern was for Ethan to not be left alone, he said. Ethan retained a sense of “generalized sadness” throughout the meeting, he said.

Hopkins did not recall Jennifer Crumbley speaking to her son during the meeting, but his father told him he had people to talk to and had a journal to write in.

The meeting ended abruptly, with Jennifer Crumbley asking, “Are we done?” Ethan was then allowed to return to class.

“I told him, ‘I just want you to know I care about you,’” Hopkins said.

Under cross-examination, Smith asked Hopkins if he could have insisted to Ethan’s parents that he be taken home that day. Hopkins replied he could have.

“Ultimately, you did not take a firm position — ‘Ethan needs to go home from school,’” Smith said.

“Correct,” Hopkins agreed.

While Hopkins was with Ethan, classes changed and a staffer brought Ethan’s backpack to him, Hopkins said. At no point did anyone look inside the backpack, he added. Police and prosecutors have previously said they believed the 9mm Sig Saur SP was already in the backpack by this time.

Hopkins said he was not aware James Crumbley had bought a gun for Ethan four days beforehand, that Ethan claimed to have experienced hallucinations, or that he had told a friend he was having a mental breakdown and wanted help.

“Did they ever seem concerned for the safety of their son?” McDonald asked.

“Not in the immediacy, no,” Hopkins answered.

Lehman then asked the counselor if he ever felt Ethan was a threat to anyone other than himself. He said he did not.

Judge Nicholson granted McDonald’s request and bound the Crumbley parents over to Circuit Court for trial.

“The court finds that the deaths of the four victims could have been avoided if James and Jennifer Crumbley exercised ordinary care and diligence in the care of their son,” Nicholson said.

Ethan Crumbley remains in custody and is charged with 24 felonies: four counts of first-degree murder, one count of committing a terrorist act causing death, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of felony firearm.