Counselor recalls morning of Michigan school attack when parents declined to take shooter home

Mar 11, 2024, 9:04 AM | Updated: 12:54 pm

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — The parents of a Michigan school shooter declined to take their son home hours before the attack, leaving instead with a list of mental health providers after being presented with his violent drawing and disturbing messages, a counselor testified Monday.

A security camera image of James Crumbley with papers in his hand at Oxford High School was displayed for the jury.

“My hope was that they were going to take him,” Shawn Hopkins testified, “either take him to get help or even just, ‘Let’s have a good day. Let’s have a day where we just spend time with you.’”

“I didn’t want him left alone,” the counselor added.

James Crumbley, 47, is on trial for involuntary manslaughter. He is accused of failing to secure a gun at home and ignoring signs of Ethan Crumbley’s mental distress.

No one opened the 15-year-old’s backpack, and he later pulled out the handgun and shot up the school, killing four students and wounding more on Nov. 30, 2021.

On the trial’s third day, prosecutors focused on the morning of the shooting before shifting to the teen’s proficiency with a firearm.

The Crumbleys had met with school staff who gave them a drawing on Ethan’s math assignment showing a gun, blood, and a wounded person, along with anguished phrases: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. My life is useless.”

Hopkins said he arranged for the Crumbleys to come to the school and met with Ethan before they arrived, trying to understand his mindset. The boy told him: “I can see why this looks bad. I’m not going to do” anything.

“I wanted him to get help as soon as possible, today if possible,” Hopkins said. “I was told it wasn’t possible.”

Hopkins testified that he told the parents that he “wanted movement within 48 hours,” and thought to himself that he would call Michigan’s child welfare agency if they didn’t take action.

Just a day earlier, Jennifer Crumbley had been called when a teacher saw Ethan looking up bullets on his phone, the counselor said.

Hopkins said Ethan wanted to stay in school. The counselor believed it was a better place for him, especially if he might be alone even if the Crumbleys took him home but left for work.

“I made the decision I made based on the information I had. I had 90 minutes of information,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said James Crumbley never objected when his wife said they couldn’t take Ethan home. And he said no one disclosed that a new gun had been purchased just four days earlier — one described by Ethan on social media as “my beauty.”

Hopkins said the father seemed interested in his son’s welfare when they discussed the drawing.

“He was talking to his son and mentioned, ‘You have people you can talk to. You can talk to your counselor, you have your journal. We talk,'” Hopkins recalled. “It felt appropriate at that time, but my concern at that point was there wasn’t any action.”

Jurors heard how, in hindsight, a simple step could have prevented the shooting. Nick Ejak, who was in charge of student discipline, said he joked to a teacher about the heavy weight of the shooter’s backpack when he retrieved it from a classroom. If he had opened the bag, he would have discovered the gun and ammunition.

Ejak said Ethan’s mental health was a concern — not discipline issues — and he believed he had no grounds to unzip the bag.

“That’s a fair statement,” Ejak replied when defense attorney Mariell Lehman asked if he believed the boy was not a threat to others.

Ethan had made multiple visits to shooting ranges with a parent in 2021, including one just three days before the school massacre. A security camera at the range recorded him instructing his mother when she appeared to struggle with the newly purchased Sig Sauer 9 mm, according to video played for the jury.

“His new Xmas present,” she wrote on social media.

Federal agent Brett Brandon said a cable to lock the Sig Sauer gun case was unused and still sealed in plastic when authorities searched the Crumbley home.

When the boy surrendered at school, “he took the magazine out of the firearm and placed it on top of a trash bin, which I found unique,” Brandon testified. “Not something someone would do if they committed a mass shooting.”

The Crumbleys are the first U.S. parents to be charged with having criminal responsibility for a mass school shooting committed by a child. Jennifer Crumbley was found guilty of the same involuntary manslaughter charges last month.

Ethan, now 17, is serving a life prison sentence for murder and terrorism.

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Counselor recalls morning of Michigan school attack when parents declined to take shooter home