Attorney: Four signs in Oxford shooting case show student was 'troubled'
Detroit — An attorney representing families of four students slain and several others wounded in the Nov. 30 Oxford High School shooting said Thursday that the alleged 15-year-old shooter did show troubling signs that were noted to school officials, including at least two that had not been previously revealed.
Both instances occurred during the first month of school in 2021.
In one instance, Ethan Crumbley, who is facing multiple charges that carry life in prison, drew a self-portrait on a notecard for a class assignment that the teacher said later had an image that could be a magazine filled with bullets, Detroit attorney Ven Johnson said. There also was a faint outline of a gun even though Crumbley tried to erase it, he said.
In the other example, a Spanish teacher emailed Crumbley's counselor to report that the sophomore had written an autobiographical poem that said "he feels terrible and that his family is a mistake," the lawyer said.
"From the beginning of school, Ethan Crumbley was evidencing signs of being a highly troubled individual, to say the least," Johnson said during a Thursday press conference alongside the parents of victims Justin Shilling, Keegan Gregory and Tate Myre. "There weren't warning signs. There were stop signs everywhere especially, on Monday the (Nov.) 29th and Tuesday the 30th."
During an hour-and-half press conference, Johnson revealed four new red flags deriving from depositions of six Oxford High School officials that they believe could have prevented the tragedy had corrective action taken place.
Specifically, Johnson detailed that Crumbley turned in drawings and assignments that showed "violent" responses. Teachers alerted counselors and school officials that Crumbley was looking at bullets and videos of gunning down crowds while sitting in class even up to the day of the tragedy, he said, instances that were reported in court documents and a February preliminary exam for parents James and Jennifer Crumbley, who are charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter connected to the deaths of four Oxford High students.
Johnson's firm has several related lawsuits pending in Oakland County Circuit Court and federal court. Johnson said he wants to argue the unconstitutionality of Oxford Community Schools — or any government body — “to hide behind governmental immunity.”
Oakland County Circuit Judge Rae Lee Chabot had previously ordered attorneys into mediation on the issues, but after they reported being unable to resolve matters, she told attorneys in July that they have 60 days to comply with depositions from six school employees named as defendants: Pam Parker Fine and Shawn Hopkins, both school counselors; Nicholas Ejak, dean of students; and teachers Jacquelyn Kubina, Becky Morgan and Allison Karpinski.
"All of this should have been revealed by Oxford Community Schools. This should have been part of an investigation done by the attorney general or whoever they chose," Johnson said. "These parents had no information other than what was revealed at the press conferences."
Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Ken Weaver told The Detroit News Thursday evening that the school system is focused on "educating and supporting our kids."
“From Day One, we have cooperated with the ongoing criminal investigation and will continue to do so,” Weaver told The News in a statement. “We are also fully cooperating with the civil litigation process and will continue to do so.
"I remain confident that the multiple investigations, lawsuits and the school board’s third-party review will bring all the facts to light and create the full transparency and accounting of events our community wants and deserves. In the meantime, we will not be responding to media about specific claims made by attorneys involved in the ongoing lawsuits. We remain focused on our mission of educating and supporting our kids.”
The initial warning sign was in the first week of school in August 2021, Johnson said, showcasing a notecard with a self-portrait drawing that was a class assignment and returned to his teacher.
The drawing had what appeared to be a building to the left of Crumbley wearing glasses, but the teacher said later it could be a magazine filled with bullets, the lawyer said. A faint outline of a gun could be made out after Crumbley erased it from the self-portrait.
"She (the teacher) claims she never saw this drawing until Monday, the day before the shooting, but this drawing was in her classroom and was one of the first assignments she gave to those kids in the school year," Johnson said. "She admitted it looked to be a magazine full of bullets, and if she had saw it at the time, she would have done something about it."
The following Labor Day weekend, on Sept. 8, 2021, Crumbley was the subject of an email sent at 8:23 a.m. from a Spanish teacher to Hopkins, the school counselor, stating: "Could you please touch base with Ethan Crumbley? In his autobiography poem, he said that he feels terrible and that his family is a mistake," Johnson read. " 'Unusual responses for sure.' Her words not mine."
Attorneys have not deposed the Spanish teacher yet, but Johnson said they will interview the teacher.
"What we know is that Hopkins admits that he got this email and that he was busy that day so he was going to deal with it the next day. Hopkins testified he did not speak to Ethan but to the (Spanish teacher). She said she was no longer concerned based on what he called 'further reflection.' She knew what Crumbley was talking about was a homework assignment and not something concerning his life," Johnson said. "Hopkins never spoke to Ethan despite the fact that he felt terrible and thought his family was a mistake."
The Spanish teacher further told the Oakland County Sheriff's Office following the shooting that Hopkins told her that he had spoken to Crumbley, "but we now know that he never did," Johnson said.
Emails to the counselor
Jumping to Nov. 10, 2021, 20 days before the shooting, Johnson said the Spanish teacher sent Hopkins another email: "Ethan probably is having a rough time right now. He might need to speak with you."
Hopkins testified at his deposition that in this instance, he went to the Spanish room, pulled Crumbley out of class and said, "If you're having a tough time right now, you're welcome to come talk to me. I can do my best to help you," Johnson said, adding that he was paraphrasing. "And Ethan responded 'OK,' and that was it."
"Imagine that he didn't spill his guts in the hallway of the school. ... Nothing with no follow-up during the second time Hopkins has been told about concerning behavior," Johnson said.
Hopkins couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.
Johnson also provided further details on an incident the day before the shooting when a teacher observed Crumbley searching for ammunition on his phone at school.
On Nov. 29, 2021, teacher Kubina sent an email to the dean of students, Ejak, and counselor Fine that she was alarmed to see Crumbley searching the internet for bullets.
Johnson quoted from an email: "I had a student during the first hour today, Ethan Crumbley, who was on his phone looking at different bullets at the end of the first hour today as I was walking around the room passing out their graded essays. I didn't get a chance to investigate it a bit further since it was the end of the hour. Now that he's on my radar, I'm noticing that some of his previous work that he's completed from earlier in the year leans a bit toward the violent side."
Kubina said she could bring the previous homework to them during her fifth-hour preparation.
"She testified eight or nine different bullets on the (cellphone) screen," Johnson said. "She further said Ethan didn't hide the phone from her. She spins it as something good, saying, 'If he was really doing something wrong, he would have hid it from me."
The school reached out to Jennifer Crumbley by email and left a phone message but never heard back that day.
Jennifer Crumbley later texted her son: "Lol, I'm not mad. You have to learn not to get caught," Oakland County Sheriff's Office Lt. Tim Willis testified in a December hearing.
'Violent survey answers'
Kubina noticed while going through Crumbley's previous work that he also completed an English Language Arts survey on Aug. 26, 2021, which was likely the same date as the notecard.
In the survey, Crumbley listed his favorite book as "Resistance and Making Bombs for Hitler." His two favorite television shows were "Dexter" and "Breaking Bad," Johnson said.
"Dexter" is a TV show about a police forensic technician who leads a double life as a vigilante serial killer, while "Breaking Bad" is a violent show about a high school chemistry teacher and a buddy who turn to a life of crime producing and distributing crystal meth.
"She testified that those responses leaned toward the violent side," Johnson said. "That's when she sends the email to Ejak and Fine, but when we deposed them, neither recalled seeing the ELA survey. She also sent it to Hopkins."
Hopkins testified "What they had in front of them at the time was nothing," Johnson said. "They spoke to Ethan who said he screwed up and he can't look at that stuff at school."
Kubina also said she never heard back and sent another email at 3:21 p.m. Nov. 29, 2021, to Hopkins and Fine with pictures of the notecard and answers listed on three questions that are on the back, adding she was concerned about answers two and three.
The response to the first one, "Who was your favorite language arts teacher?" didn't raise any alarms. The second asked: "What's a word that describes the last three months during the pandemic and homeschool?" Crumbley wrote: "Enjoyable." To the question "What's your biggest pet peeve?" Crumbley responded: "When people don't do what I ask them to do," Johnson quoted.
"After discovering what Ethan was looking at today in class, this seem to correlate," Johnson quoted from Kubina's email.
Morning of the shooting
Authorities have previously said the morning of the shooting, on a piece of paper in front of Crumbley, a teacher saw the words: "the thoughts won't stop, help me" and a drawing of a bullet and the phrase: "blood everywhere." There was a sketch of a person shot twice and bleeding, a laughing emoji and the final lines: “my life is useless” and “the world is dead.”
On Thursday, Johnson shared what he said were more details of that morning.
On the morning of Nov. 30, 2021, Karpinski, a special education teacher who sits in on classrooms for various days, sent an email to Hopkins and Fine stating: "I know (another teacher) emailed you yesterday about some concerns about Ethan Crumbley in our first-hour class. Today, he's watching videos on his phone of a guy gunning down people. It looks like a movie scene, not a real event but definitely concerning when taking into account some of his other behavior."
A half-hour later, Hopkins received another email from the math teacher that showed Crumbley's homework drawings of firearms, bullets with words "blood everywhere," "the thoughts won't stop help me," and "the world is dead."
The math teacher was concerned and marched it down to the office. Hopkins pulled Crumbley from class, leaving his backpack on the back of his chair. In the office, Hopkins and Ejak had a 45-minute conversation about his note that the "thoughts won't stop help me." At the time, Crumbley told the officials that he wants to be a videogame designer and all is well.
Crumbley's parents were called and "in the middle of all of this, Ethan is really worried about missing chemistry, but really he wants his backpack, which is loaded with the firearm, magazines and his manifesto," Johnson said.
Johnson said Ejak went to the math classroom to retrieve the backpack and when the teacher handed it to him, he verbally made a comment on how heavy it is. Neither one of them thought to search the backpack, Johnson said.
Crumbley was working on his chemistry homework when his parents arrived at the school. Hopkins told the parents that he wanted Ethan to see a mental health therapist within 24 hours and provided resources to reach out to.
Ethan Crumbley returned to class around noon and at 12:51 p.m. shots were fired.
During the shooting, a dozen were injured and four students were fatally shot: Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17.
"To hear adults be sworn to tell the truth across the table from me and say this is normal behavior for kids from Oxford to be obsessed with guns. ... I can't think of anything more grotesque and concerning," Johnson said. "Apparently, the only thing that was going to stop Ethan from the school's perspective was if that kid would have handed them his manifesto and said: 'Read what I'm going to do today.'"
Johnson said they will be taking depositions of school administrators that should have been notified, including principals and superintendents and sharing what happens with the public.
"We're hoping by sharing this that we can once and for all begin to have an understanding of what went wrong and by whom, and what needs to happen in the future," Johnson said.
Johnson's firm has already filed lawsuits against Crumbley, his parents and the school district to find out who is conducting this investigation. A motion to review governmental immunity, which was expected to be heard in October, has been postponed to February, Johnson said.
Buck Myre, Tate Myre's father who witnessed the testimonies, said it's "blatantly obvious that Oxford Community Schools is withholding information. They knew they dropped the ball that day and are hiding behind governmental immunity."
"Accountability is owning what you do," Myre said.
Jill Soave, Justin Shilling's mother, said this new evidence is beyond neglect, it's "unforgivable."
"I don't see any excuse to not take these red flags seriously," Soave said. "We have four angels that are gone that should be here today. ... Anyone with common sense could put these pieces together that something was very wrong. Someone should have called CPS (Children's Protective Services) because it's better safe than sorry, and these school shootings keep happening again and again. ... These teachers should have stepped it up to another level."