ROCHESTER HILLS, MI — The mother of Ethan Crumbley, accused in the Oxford school shooting, described her son as “weird,” a witness said at a preliminary hearing to determine if the parents should face trial for their role in the attack.
Parents James and Jennifer Crumbley appeared in court Tuesday. The couple is charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Nov. 30 shooting that killed four students at Oxford High School.
Prosecutors said the couple committed gross negligence by buying their son a gun and ignoring disturbing warning signs before the shootings, which left four people dead and seven others wounded. A judge will decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
The Crumbleys have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The prosecution is expected to summon about 30 witnesses for the preliminary hearing. One witness on Tuesday told the court that Jennifer had described her son “weird.”
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Metamora horse farm owner Kira Pennock, 25, was the first to testify. A friend of the couple, Pennock said she gave Jennifer weekly horseback riding lessons, and the pair boarded horses together.
According to Pennock, Jennifer called her son “weird” and was concerned about his lifestyle — Ethan didn’t have any friends and spent most of his free time online or playing video games, she said.
On the morning of the attack, Pennock said Jennifer messaged her that Ethan got into trouble at school and “couldn’t be left alone.” Prosecutors said school officials instructed the couple to get Ethan counseling within 48 hours.
However, Pennock said Jennifer still planned to make her riding lesson later that day and planned to bring Ethan with her, hoping it would help him deal with the problems he was having at school.
The lesson never took place. Authorities said Ethan opened fire at the high school that afternoon before surrendering to police. He has been charged with one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Ethan was arraigned Jan. 7. He pleaded not guilty, and a judge denied him bond.
“My son ruined so many lives today,” Jennifer messaged Pennock after the shooting.
Jennifer’s boss, Andrew Smith, also testified Tuesday morning. Smith, a real estate lawyer and CEO, said Jennifer texted him Nov. 30 that she had to leave work to attend a meeting with her son at school. It was during that meeting that school officials instructed the couple to get their son counseling, authorities said.
However, the Crumbleys left the meeting without their son, who returned to class that afternoon, prosecutors said.
When Jennifer returned to work, she showed colleagues a drawing that school officials said Ethan made. It depicted violence and the words “help me,” “My life is useless,” and “The thoughts won’t stop,” according to testimony.
“I told her I thought it was scary,” coworker Amanda Holland testified. “She agreed. She felt like a failure as a parent.”
Holland added that Jennifer did seem a “little sarcastic” when discussing her failure.
Smith said he asked her if everything was OK when he returned to work, and said he too felt she was depicting herself as a “failure” or as “failing” her son.
Shortly after, Smith said, he heard a scream in the office about an active shooter at the high school, and Jennifer said she had to go.
Smith said later that day he got a text from Jennifer saying Ethan did it. “I need my job, please don’t judge me for what my son did,” she wrote.
An investigator also testified that the day before the shooting, Jennifer and Ethan were texting each other about the gun that authorities said Ethan used in the shooting. Jennifer asked Ethan if he showed teachers a “pic of your new gun” after he got caught looking up ammunition in class.
Ed Wagrowski, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office computer crimes investigator, read the texts between the two during Tuesday’s hearing:
“Seriously?? Looking up bullets in school??” Jennifer wrote.
Ethan replied: “Oh yeah. I already went to the office for that. All I did was look up a certain caliber at the end of class because I was curious. Completely harmless.”