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Judge rules parents of Michigan shooting suspect must stand trial

Defense lawyers tried to paint the couple as oblivious to the actions and behavior of their troubled son, who is said to have begged them to send him to a therapist as he wrote detailed shooting plans in a journal.

ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. (CN) — The parents of Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old sophomore accused of killing four and injuring several others in a shooting spree at his Michigan high school last year, were bound over for trial Thursday during the second part of a preliminary evidentiary hearing.

“The court finds that the deaths of the four victims could have been avoided if James and Jennifer Crumbley exercised ordinary care and judgment,” Oakland County District Court Judge Julie H. Nicholson concluded.  

Oakland County Sheriff's Detective Edward Wagrowski provided testimony in which he disclosed text messages that allegedly showed the teenager was hallucinating, hearing voices and asking his parents for help.

"I’m going to tell them about the voices," Ethan texted a friend on April 5, 2021, months before the Nov. 30 shooting.

Mariell Lehman of Smith Lehman, representing Jennifer Crumbley, countered that she became worried about her son and texted him nurturing messages.

“You know you can talk to us,” Lehman said Jennifer texted. “We won’t judge you.”

Lehman said Ethan had three Instagram accounts and suggested it was possible his parents were not aware of his worsening mental health when he posted pictures of guns.

James Crumbley’s lawyer Shannon Smith of Smith Lehman said there were no text messages that suggested the parents - who have each been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter - knew Ethan would go on a shooting rampage.

Prosecutor Mark Keast moved quickly to dispel that narrative. He said that Jennifer deleted her Facebook Messenger account soon after the shooting and that she ignored text messages from Ethan when he said he saw demons.

Keast said text messages between Ethan and a friend painted a different picture of Jennifer.

“My mom thinks I’m on drugs,” Ethan allegedly texted. “My mom makes me feel like a piece of shit.”

Keast also detailed the response from James, who allegedly told his troubled son to “suck it up” and take some pills.

Oxford High School counselor Shawn Hopkins took the stand to testify about his interactions with the parents. He said Ethan became sad when he asked him about disturbing pictures he drew on a math assignment but quickly said the drawings only represented a video game.

“I know this looks bad,” Hopkins said Ethan told him. “I’m not going to do anything.”

Hopkins remained concerned, however.

“I believe he was a threat to himself,” he testified.

Oakland County Sheriff Detective Lieutenant Timothy Willis was also called to the stand to testify about Ethan’s journal that was discovered in the aftermath. Willis said all the entries had to do with the shooting.

“First victim has to be a pretty girl so she can suffer like me,” Willis read from the exhibit.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen D. McDonald closed by saying Jennifer and James were “grossly negligent” and read off several text messages from Ethan that were ignored by Jennifer.

“Can you at least text me back?” Ethan allegedly wrote to Jennifer, who was busy riding a horse at the time and did not respond.

“It was preventable,” McDonald said. “It cannot be ignored.”

Nicholson opened the first part of the preliminary evidentiary hearing on Feb. 8 by denying a defense motion to adjourn until a later date. Defense attorneys indicated they had not been able to go over all evidence provided by prosecutors, but the judge was unmoved.

During that hearing, Jennifer's supervisor at the real estate company she worked for detailed a string of text messages he received the day of the shooting. Andrew Smith said Jennifer screamed when heard the news of the shooting at work and went home.

Smith said Jennifer texted to tell him, “The gun is gone and so are the bullets," followed by several other cryptic messages later: “Ethan did it" and “I need my job. Please don’t judge me for what my son did.”

Smith testified he was surprised Jennifer was more concerned about her job than her son.

The parents sought to lower their bonds from $500,000 to $100,000 in January but were unsuccessful.

Ethan agreed to waive his right to a preliminary examination hearing in January and has been bound over for trial to the Oakland County Circuit Court on charges 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 during the commission of a felony.

He pleaded not guilty last month in a brief hearing before Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Kwame’ L. Rowe. The teen's lawyers have attempted to move him from an adult jail to a juvenile setting. Rowe said he would issue a ruling next week.

Three students were pronounced dead the day of the Oxford High School shooting and a fourth victim succumbed to his injuries the next morning. Eight others were injured, including a teacher.

A 17-year-old student who suffered a gunshot wound to the neck in the shooting filed a $100 million federal lawsuit in late December claiming Oxford school officials could have acted sooner.

A second lawsuit was filed in late January by the family of Tate Myre, a 16-year-old student who was allegedly shot and killed by Ethan. The complaint, filed in Oakland County Circuit Court, accuses Oxford teachers and counselors of not doing enough to stop the massacre.

Yet another lawsuit against the school was filed in federal court Thursday by John Asciutto and other students with similar accusations of negligence. According to the lawsuit, Asciutto was shot in the buttocks and the bullet exited out the front of his pelvis. Asciutto’s brother Anthony and Marco Vackaro also seek damages for their psychological distress.

Oxford, population 3,586, is in central Oakland County, about 40 miles north of Detroit.

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