Prosecutor on Crumbley warning signs: Ethan had bird head in jar, mom had affair

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Rochester Hills — In the weeks leading up to the Oxford school shooting, suspect Ethan Crumbley's dog died, his only friend moved and he carried a baby bird's head in a jar to school, prosecutors said.

Despite signs of sadness and disturbing text messages, his mom engaged in an extramarital affair and both parents spent hours each week tending to the family's horses, prosecutors claim.

"Instead of paying attention to their son and getting him help, they bought him a gun," Oakland County prosecutors wrote in a court filing Thursday.

Prosecutors filed a pointed rebuke of James and Jennifer Crumbley, who are seeking to have their $500,000 bond lowered at a Jan. 7 hearing. They remain jailed on charges of involuntary manslaughter after their son was accused of killing four classmates at Oxford High School on Nov. 30.

Prosecutors also for the first time released troubling drawings that officials say caused teachers to remove Ethan from class hours before the shooting.

Attorneys for the couple, Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman of Bloomfield Hills, have asked a judge to reduce their individual bonds from $500,000 to $100,000 and release them on an electronic tether.

This is exhibit one of filing from Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald showing an image of the picture Ethan Crumbley allegedly drew the day of the shooting at Oxford High School.

Prosecutor Karen McDonald's office argued in the filing that the $500,000 bonds should not be lowered and the couple is "a greater risk of flight now than they were at the time of arraignment."

Assistant Prosecutor Mark Keast argued in the 35-page response Thursday that the motion earlier this week to reduce their bonds left out important details.

"As of October 18 2021, they were over $11,000 behind on their house payments. Their house is currently for sale. They have sold their horses," Keast wrote. "They have already shown that they will flee if given the opportunity."

Earlier this week, the couple's attorneys contended in a court filing that the gun was properly locked away and they had no reason to believe Ethan Crumbley was a threat to himself or others.

The Crumbleys' attorneys, Smith and Lehman, didn't immediately respond Thursday evening to requests for comment. 

More:Crumbleys say in court filing that gun was locked up, they knew of no threat

All three Crumbleys face criminal charges in the shooting at Oxford High School in which Ethan Crumbley is accused of killing four people and wounding seven.

Ethan Crumbley, 15, faces 24 counts of first-degree murder, terrorism and felony firearm charges; his parents face four counts each of involuntary manslaughter.

This is exhibit two of a filing from Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald showing an image of the picture Ethan Crumbley allegedly drew the day of the shooting at Oxford High School. Exhibit two shows that some images and words have been crosseds out and other positive messages have been added, such as “I love my life so much!!!” and “We’re all friends here.”

Their son was denied bond. 

Judge Julie Nicholson at 52-3 District Court in Rochester Hills is expected to consider the issue of the couple's bonds at the Jan. 7 hearing.

James and Jennifer Crumbley are due before Nicholson on Feb. 8 for preliminary examinations that would determine if they will stand trial. 

Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17, were killed in the shooting. 

More:Exam for parents accused Oxford High School shooter set for February

Two versions

Oxford High School shooting defendant Ethan Crumbley appears at his probable cause hearing via remote video conference on Dec. 13, 2021. The conference was adjourned and rescheduled for Jan. 7, 2022.

In exhibits one and two, the filing shows two versions of the drawings that landed Ethan Crumbley in the high school office on Nov. 30. The first is how the drawing initially appeared when a teacher captured a screenshot and alerted a counselor to her concerns.

The second is how the drawing appeared in the school office, after the teen allegedly had modified it.

In the original, a math homework sheet is overwritten with a drawing. There is a gun, a bullet and a bleeding shooting victim. At different points, hand-written additions to the page read: "My life is useless," "Blood everywhere" and "The thoughts won't stop, help me."

More:Teacher alarmed by Oxford High suspect's drawings ahead of shooting, warned school leaders

In the version allegedly changed, the shooting victim, the gun and the bullet are crossed out, as is "blood everywhere," "help me" and "my life is useless."

A crying-laughing emoji appears, along with "video game this is," "we're all friends here," "harmless act," "I love my life so much!!!!" and "OHS rocks!"

The Thursday filing portrays James and Jennifer Crumbley as preoccupied with financial woes, horses and affairs of the heart as their son spiraled.

The month before the shooting, Ethan Crumbley's "only" friend moved away, the prosecution wrote.

The family dog recently died. And Jennifer Crumbley was involved in an affair with another man and was in communication with that man in the midst of the turmoil on Nov. 30, according to the filing. He is not identified.

Prosecutors argue Ethan Crumbley had been "sending his mother disturbing texts about his state of mind," and his parents "were made aware, in graphic form, of the serious risk posed by their son prior to the shooting."

"This is not a case of hindsight, where parents later wish they could have done something," they wrote.

Jennifer Crumbley is escorted into court for a probable cause hearing in Rochester Hills on Dec. 14, 2021. She and husband James Crumbley are seeking to have their bond reduced from $500,000 to $100,000.

McDonald has acknowledged that it's unusual to charge parents in a school shooting.

But in the filing, her office argued it's also unusual for parents to play contributing roles to the shooting, by providing a weapon, not disclosing it to school officials and ignoring warning signs they were in the best position to read.

One of the warning signs, prosecutors said, is a jar Ethan Crumbley kept in his bedroom, containing the head of a baby bird. He later brought the jar to school and left it in a bathroom, they said. 

The couple had also learned their son was "seen watching violent video of shootings" the morning of Nov. 30, the same day they allegedly ignored school officials describing his drawings.

"All they had to do was tell the school that they had recently purchased a gun for their son, asked him where the gun was, opened his backpack or just take him home," the prosecution argued. "...Defendants were in a better position than anyone else in the world to prevent this tragedy, but they failed to do so."

The filing includes a mid-November statement from Flagstar Bank to Jennifer Crumbley, showing her as $11,358 in arrears and 443 days delinquent on the mortgage on their Oxford home as of mid October. Year-to-date, only $785 had been paid on the mortgage, and $1,733 had been paid in property taxes.

It includes a Dec. 17 letter from Lehman, one of the defense attorneys, to the prosecutor's office, disclosing that the Crumbleys were listing their Oxford home for sale. 

Dispute over manhunt

James Crumbley is escorted out of a hearing in Rochester Hills on Dec. 14, 2021.

The Crumbleys were the subject of a manhunt by local and federal authorities when they failed to show for an arraignment on charges on Dec. 3. Smith and Lehman argued in their filing that McDonald did not return messages from the lawyers and held a press conference on Dec. 3 knowing that Smith was in a trial and Lehman was traveling back to Michigan from Florida. 

The Crumbleys' attorneys stress neither parent is a flight risk, police have taken all their weapons and they can't have contact with their son because he is jailed.

The prosecution argued that it was no miscommunication that led to the manhunt for the Crumbleys, but a deliberate attempt to flee, down to parking in Detroit in a way meant to hide their license plate number.

They were found with four phones and allegedly attempted to destroy one when police found them, according to the filing. Two were "burner" phones meant to evade law enforcement, the prosecution says.

Adding to their flight risk, the prosecution argued, "both defendants have substantial contacts in Florida."