Defense attorneys representing accused high school shooter Ethan Crumbley’s parents elicited testimony at a Thursday hearing which suggested neither of the teen’s parents followed two of their son’s many social media accounts. The parents, the defense attorneys suggested, were otherwise oblivious to the most incriminating posts and messages connected to the teen in the days leading up to the shooting that claimed four lives.
James Crumbley, 45, and Jennifer Crumbley, 43, are each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with a deadly Nov. 30, 2021 attack at Oxford High School in Oxford Township, Mich. Prosecutors have alleged that the parents acted in a grossly negligent manner and played a secondary role in causing the deaths of the four teens Ethan Crumbley is directly accused of murdering. The two parents were arrested in a downtown Detroit building after authorities suggested they were attempting to flee; an attorney for one of the parents said they were scared and were planning to turn themselves in.
The testimony about Ethan Crumbley’s myriad text messages and social media accounts occurred during day two of a preliminary examination. The first day of the examination was Feb. 8, and it revealed a starkly different version of the events — according to the defense — than what prosecutors have long alleged. Specifically, the defense said school officials gave the Crumbley parents the “option” to leave Ethan in school shortly before the fatal attack occurred and that school told the parents their son was “not a threat to anyone.”
Under Michigan law, the purpose of a preliminary examination is to determine whether “it appears that a felony has been committed and that there is probable cause to believe that the accused is guilty thereof.” If a judge agrees with that statutorily defined threshold question, the case proceeds to trial.
Prosecutors have alleged that the parents ignored warning signs that their son was a danger — signs that were visible on the teen’s social media channels — and left Ethan in school rather than tending to his immediate mental health needs just hours before he pulled the trigger and killed four classmates.
Defense attorneys for the parents attempted to refute the notion that either of the parents were aware of their son’s online behavior that could have served as a warning sign that the teen was up to something nefarious.
“In fact, Jennifer and James do not follow those two accounts?” asked attorney Shannon Smith.
“According to that device that we have the data from, correct,” said Edward Wagrowski, a detective in the computer crimes unit at the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
Smith’s exchange continued:
Q: And, as far as you know, you cannot tell if Jennifer and James were aware those other Instagram names were used by their son?
It’s impossible to tell if Jennifer and James had any awareness those two counts existed?
Earlier in the exchange, Smith forced Wagrowski to acknowledge that it isn’t illegal to post photos of guns or bullets online.
Jennifer and James were “not making comments about the photographs” and that there was “no way to tell if Jennifer and James even saw” many of their son’s photographs, Smith forced the law enforcement official to agree. “And, even beyond that, there is still no way to tell whether they know about two other existing Instagram accounts that Ethan had,” Wagrowski acknowledged when prompted by Smith.
The parents “technically follow” their son’s third account, the detective agreed, but there was no direct evidence they monitored it or saw individual posts.
The officer sought to limit his testimony at points to indicate that law enforcement knowledge was based on an examination of one device. It was unclear from the immediate context whether additional examinations were ongoing or planned.
The defense further noted that there were no text messages between Jennifer and James Crumbley to suggest that the couple suspected Ethan Crumbley might be a school shooter — despite the couple discussing their son “frequently” via electronic message.
Jennifer Crumbley once searched for “clinical depression treatment options,” the defense noted. It was unclear for whom she might have been seeking treatment. There were no searches to suggest Jennifer Crumbley feared her son might commit violence, Smith said; Wagrowski agreed. The questioning and answering also revealed no texts from Jennifer to Ethan which might suggest the teen was “homicidal” or anything “along those lines.”
Text messages by Ethan Crumbley to a friend other than his parents indicate that the teen claimed to be hearing “voices.” The defense noted that it was unclear whether the teen was discussing telling his parents that information or whether he was going to tell his doctors those complaints.
Text messages referenced by the defense indicated that a friend told Ethan to “pull the trigger” of a gun Ethan apparently referenced in photos — but the friend followed that suggestion with “JK JK JK.” That’s short for “just kidding, just kidding, just kidding,” Wagrowski testified.
Ethan Crumbley told his friend his “dad left the gun out” but that he knew “gun safety” so it was “no problem,” the messages revealed, according to Smith.
“Now it’s time to shoot up the school,” Ethan Crumbley later told his friend — again followed by “JK JK JK,” the defense attorney said.
Wagrowski admitted no such conversation occurred between Ethan or his parents — it was all between Ethan and a friend.
Ethan and his friend exchanged 25,000 messages — about 5,000 pieces of paper, Smith said.
“In the grand scheme of all the messages between Ethan and Brady [his friend], there is nothing to indicate that Jennifer or James were told or were aware of plans to commit a school shooting like what happened at Oxford High School on 11/30?” Smith asked.
“Correct,” Wagrowski replied.
Indeed, Crumbley explicitly discussed hiding things from his parents, Smith immediately noted; the officer agreed.
Defense attorney Mariell Lehman noted a dearth of incriminating messages between James Crumbley and his son Ethan.
The hearing continued into the afternoon. The defense is attempting to convince a judge that there is not probable cause to allow the case against the parents to continue toward a trial.
[All images via screengrabs from YouTube/WJBK-TV.]
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