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Prosecutors detail warning signs missed by parents of Mich. school shooting suspect

Jennifer and James Crumbley (top) made a court appearance via Zoom on Friday, where their request for a lower bail amount was denied by a judge.
Carlos Osorio
Jennifer and James Crumbley (top) made a court appearance via Zoom on Friday, where their request for a lower bail amount was denied by a judge.

In the months before the Oxford High School shooting in Michigan, the 15-year-old suspect, Ethan Crumbley, texted his mother about seeing demons and ghosts in the family home, filmed himself torturing animals and obsessed over firearms and Nazi propaganda, prosecutors say.

The new details about evidence gathered by prosecutors were revealed Friday during a bond hearing for Crumbley's parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley. Both face four charges of involuntary manslaughter — one for each of the four students killed in the shooting on Nov. 30, 2021.

The parents are being held on bond of $500,000 apiece. Defense lawyers representing the pair requested the bail amount be lowered to $100,000. Judge Julie Nicholson denied that motion Friday.

"The evidence shows a 15-year-old who had repeatedly informed his parents that he was hallucinating. The same 15-year-old continually demonstrated tendencies that were worrisome, all able to be found by his parents. He demonstrated one real passion in life, and that was firearms," said prosecutor Marc Keast, who urged the judge to dismiss the defense's request.

The Crumbleys' son, Ethan, is accused of terrorism and murder in the school shooting at his high school in Oxford, Mich. Several warnings were raised about the 15-year-old the day before and the morning of the shooting, including by a teacher who discovered disturbing drawings and messages on a math worksheet.

On the morning of Nov. 30, a school guidance counselor called James and Jennifer Crumbley into a meeting, where they were told to seek counseling for their son within 48 hours or else the school would call child protective services, according to authorities.

At that meeting, the Crumbleys refused a request to take their son home from school and did not inform school authorities that they had recently purchased a gun for him, according to court records.

About two hours later, Ethan Crumbley began his shooting spree, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors have justified the unusual charges against the Crumbley parents by saying they purchased the handgun used in the shooting as a Christmas gift for their son and did not secure it properly, in spite of "numerous warning signs" about their son's mental state.

Prosecutors say Ethan Crumbley began texting his mother about visions last March

In the hearing Friday, prosecutors spoke in the greatest detail yet about what those warning signs entailed — including visions, depression and animal torture.

"As far back as March of 2021, Ethan Crumbley would text his mother, Jennifer, on more than one occasion — and always when he was home alone — that he thought there was a demon, a ghost or someone else inside the home," Keast said. "These weren't one-time messages."

Additionally, prosecutors said, the younger Crumbley was obsessed with weapons. A notebook recovered from the Crumbley home is filled with images of guns, prosecutors said. He had also shown an interest in Nazi propaganda, including an internet purchase of a Nazi coin and drawing Nazi symbols.

Ethan Crumbley had practiced making Molotov cocktails at home and "searched school shootings and firearms so often on his phone that he received spam advertisements regarding his mental well-being and firearms," the prosecutor said.

Prosecutors had previously described the animal torture — including beheading a bird and storing the head in a jar in his bedroom — in acourt filing in late December. "He did this at the family home. He filmed himself doing it," Keast said.

Lawyers for Crumbley's parents say they were unaware of animal torture

Lawyers representing the Crumbley parents say their son concealed his most concerning behaviors.

"His parents were completely unaware that Ethan had engaged in any sort of torture behavior," said Mariell Lehman, a lawyer representing both Crumbley parents.

Prosecutors also described in greater detail the Crumbleys' actions in the hours and days after the school shooting, which culminated with their late-night arrest at a converted warehouse near downtown Detroit in early December.

The Crumbleys purchased several new cellphones the day of the shooting, prosecutors said, and withdrew thousands of dollars in cash — including $3,000 from their son's bank account, leaving a balance of less than a dollar. They began to make arrangements to sell horses and purposefully positioned their vehicles in order to conceal license plates, said Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald.

"These are not the actions of individuals who wanted to turn themselves in," McDonald said. "They are a serious risk of flight."

The elder Crumbleys' next court appearance is a preliminary examination scheduled for Feb. 8.

Ethan Crumbley also made a separate appearance in court Friday. He waived his right to a preliminary examination, a move that is not uncommon in high-profile criminal cases.

He faces 24 felony counts, including four counts of murder and a terrorism charge. A trial date has not yet been set.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.