Appeals Court ruling reveals new details in Oxford High shooting timeline

The Detroit News

When a three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that there was enough evidence for the parents of the Oxford High School shooter to stand trial on involuntary manslaughter charges, they published a new timeline of events around the Nov. 30, 2021 shooting.

In a unanimous opinion, Court of Appeals Judge Christopher Murray wrote it was not an abuse of discretion for Oakland County District Judge Julie Nicholson to conclude there was enough evidence for James and Jennifer Crumbley to stand trial on four counts each of involuntary manslaughter. The charges are tied to the four Oxford High School students killed in the mass shooting by Ethan Crumbley, who pleaded guilty in October to their deaths and awaits sentencing.

A juror could determine that a reasonably foreseeable outcome of the parents' actions was that Ethan Crumbley — referred to as EC in oral arguments and the opinion — would commit a shooting that day, Murray said.

Among the revelations in the timeline were that Jennifer Crumbley had text exchanges with her son about 10 minutes before he started shooting at the high school.

The following are excerpts of the timeline:

When problems began

"Although it is unclear from the record exactly when evidence of his problems first arose, the record is clear that by early 2021 EC began verbalizing situations he was experiencing that reflected instability in his mental health."

The judge listed an incident in March 2021 in which "EC sent a series of text messages to Jennifer explaining his desire for Jennifer to come home, sending messages in close temporal proximity describing his self-described paranoia that someone was in the house with him."

The messages included: “[T]here’s someone in the house, I think”; “someone walked into the bathroom and flushed the toilet and left the light on” and "[t]here is no one in the house, though.”

Ethan Crumbley answers yes to charges against him from assistant prosecutor during his pre-trial hearing at Oakland County Courthouse. October 24, 2022. Pontiac, MI.

A week later, Ethan said he thought he saw a demon, according to text messages. “[O]kay, the house is now haunted," he texted. And “I got some videos,” and “and a picture of the demon.”

Both parents were aware of EC's troubles, the judge indicated.

"Approximately two days later, Jennifer messaged James about how EC was doing, and James responded that 'he woke up looking like he had WAY too much to drink last night complaining about a headache.' Jennifer was not surprised by EC’s state, telling James, 'well, [EC] was really worked up and out of control, so I can see why.'

"Jennifer sent another message: 'All I know is he needs to eat, go to work and work hard and not complain and he can get his stuff back.'"

Ethan's text messages with a friend indicated James Crumbley didn't think his son had a problem.

"...EC informed his friend that he had asked his parents for medical help but that James refused the request, instead giving him some pills and telling him to 'suck it up.' Jennifer, according to EC, laughed at the request because she did not believe he had any mental health issues, but was instead using drugs."

The gun purchase

James and Ethan went to an Oxford gun shop on Nov. 26 to buy a 9 mm SIG Sauer handgun that was used four days later in the high school shooting.

"To make this purchase, James provided his identification, filled out and signed the required form, and waited for completion of the background check. The form James signed indicated that purchasing a gun for someone else was illegal. When the background check cleared, James purchased the SIG Sauer, which was given to him in a case containing a cable lock, a trigger lock, an ATF Youth Handgun Notice Act pamphlet, and extra magazines of ammunition," according to Murray.

James Crumbley, father of accused Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, sits in the courtroom of Judge Cheryl Matthews for a hearing Monday, June 27, 2022 at Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac.

The next day, on Nov. 27, Jennifer and her son went to a gun range, where Ethan showed Jennifer how to use the gun.

"Later that day, EC posted on his Instagram account a photograph of the target with bulletholes through it and with a caption stating: 'Took my new SIG out to the range today. Definitelyneed to get used to the new sites [sic], LOL.'

"Jennifer posted photographs of the paper target and the gun in its case on her own Instagram account, captioning her post with: 'Mom and son day, testing out his new X-mas present. My first time shooting a 9-millimeter. I hit the bullseye.' Although there was no way to verify whether defendants saw EC’s Instagram posts, their cell phone records showed they did follow his Instagram account."

Events of Nov. 29

"In the early morning hours of Monday, November 29, Jennifer performed an internet search on treatment options for clinical depression," Murray wrote.

Later that morning, an Oxford High teacher saw Ethan looking at handgun ammunition on his cell phone and reported him to other school officials. He was told it was an improper classroom activity.

A school official attempted to contact Jennifer, leaving a voicemail saying “guns may be a hobby and there’s nothing wrong with that,” but it was improper classroom activity. "The official did not request Jennifer call back, and she did not do so," Murray wrote.

Jennifer received the voicemail and texted EC about it, writing "Seriously? Looking up bullets in school??” Her son responded with a bunch of messages that included "Oh yeah. I already went to the office for that" and “It was on my phone. Completely harmless."

Jennifer texted at another point: “did you at least show them a pic of your new gun?” Ethan responded: “No, I didn’t show them the pic, my God.”

Defendant Jennifer Crumbley listens to testimony during his pretrial hearing at Oakland Circuit Court. October 28, 2022, Pontiac, MI.

His mother later texted “LOL. I’m not mad. You have to learn not to get caught.”

"EC texted, 'IK LOL,' with laughing emojis, asked to listen to the voicemail, and explained that he was not trying to hide his cell phone but did not know a teacher was looking."

Events of Nov. 30

While in English class, Ethan was caught watching a shooting video on his cell phone, which the teacher reported to higher school officials. In math class, the teacher found Ethan's work sheet with drawings of a gun and the words "Blood everywhere." Below the gun drawing were the words: "The thoughts won't stop" and "Help me."

James and Jennifer were called to school for a meeting with officials.

"When defendants walked into (counselor Shawn) Hopkins’s office, they did not greet, touch, or hug EC, which Hopkins called 'bizarre.' Hopkins informed defendants about the video EC had been watching during his first hour class (he had already sent Jennifer both versions of the math worksheet), told defendants he was concerned about EC’s mental health, provided them with mental health resources, and recommended they immediately take EC to a doctor or therapist that day.

"Jennifer objected to that suggestion, opining that getting EC care on that day was impossible because sheand James had to return to work," the judge wrote. "James did not disagree with Jennifer’s statement. Despite his surprise at that decision, Hopkins insisted that EC get medical attention within 48 hours. Because there was no disciplinary issue requiring EC to leave school, the decision was made for EC to remain at school.

"During the nearly 15-minute meeting, Jennifer did not speak to EC. James, on the other hand, expressed to EC that he had people with whom he could talk, including defendants, and encouraged EC to write in his journal." When the meeting ended, school officials and the parents did not ask to and did not look inside Ethan's backpack, "which contained his journal and the SIG Sauer."

Texts after meeting

Jennifer returned to work and told co-workers about what happened. "Jennifer reiterated her concerns about EC being lonely, given recent events in his life, and showed both of them EC’s math worksheet. Jennifer said she felt like a failure as a parent, agreed with the assessment that the drawings were disturbing and that EC needed counseling, and reiterated that she felt like a failure as a parent."

At 12:21 p.m., Jennifer texted her son to see if he was all right. He wrote he was and had finished lunch.

Jennifer then wrote, “[y]ou know you can talk to us and we won’t judge,” to which EC responded at 12:42 p.m., “IK thank you. I’m sorry for that. I love you.”

Murray then wrote: "Fewer than 10 minutes after sending that message, EC went into a bathroom with hisbackpack, came out with the SIG Sauer, and committed the murders while also injuring six other students and one teacher. By 12:58 p.m., the shooting was over. Oxford High School sent out alerts to parents about an active shooter within the school. Jennifer received the information while at work and started screaming."