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Message shows Oxford School shooter’s dad told boy to ‘suck it up’ about mental health struggles

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PONTIAC (AP) — The father of a Michigan school shooter who killed four students in 2021 missed an “incredible opportunity” to prevent the tragedy, prosecutors said Thursday as jurors heard opening statements in a trial that will determine whether a second parent will be held responsible for the attack.

“This case isn’t about bad parenting — it’s not illegal to be a bad parent. It’s not kids doing kid things,” assistant prosecutor Marc Keast said. “We’re talking about preventable mass murder.”

James Crumbley is charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each teenager killed by Ethan Crumbley at Oxford High School. Jennifer Crumbley was found guilty of the same charges last month.


Keast emphasized a series of key points for the jury. He noted that James Crumbley, accompanied by his son, bought a Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun four days before the shooting.

The father never told school staff about the purchase — or a trip to a shooting range that same weekend — when he and his wife were summoned to discuss a disturbing drawing on Ethan’s math assignment on the day of the shooting.

There was a gun on the paper that looked similar to the Sig Sauer, blood drops and a bullet, accompanied by the phrases: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”

“Emergency,” Jennifer Crumbley messaged her husband before the meeting.


“My god,” he responded when he saw the drawing.

But the Crumbleys didn’t take Ethan home, and the school, concerned that he might be suicidal, didn’t demand it. No one checked the boy’s backpack for a gun, however, and the nine-minute shooting happened that afternoon.

“Instead of seizing that incredible opportunity, James Crumbley spent hours making deliveries” for DoorDash, Keast said.

He displayed a picture of a gun lock, still in a package, for the jury.


“It was never used” at home, the prosecutor said.

James Crumbley is not accused of knowing what his 15-year-old son had planned for his school. But he’s accused of being grossly negligent by not securing the weapon.

“This nightmare — these murders — were preventable by him, foreseeable by him,” Keast said.

Defense attorney Mariell Lehman suggested that James Crumbley, 47, might testify in his own defense or that his beliefs about the gun and Ethan will come out at the trial in other ways.


“James Crumbley was not aware that his son had access to that firearm,” Lehman told jurors. “You will hear testimony that access was not allowed in James Crumbley’s mind. You will not hear that James Crumbley even suspected that his son was a danger.”

James and Jennifer Crumbley are the first U.S. parents to be charged with having criminal responsibility for a mass school shooting committed by a child.

Prosecutors allege that, in addition to failing to secure the gun, the Crumbleys ignored their son’s pleas for help for mental distress. Ethan told a friend that James Crumbley’s response was to tell the boy to “suck it up,” according to text messages introduced Thursday by investigator Ed Wagrowski.

“I am mentally and physically dying,” Ethan told the friend in April 2021.

Before jurors entered court, Judge Cheryl Matthews made rulings that could benefit James Crumbley. She said prosecutors can’t use text messages between son and mother, months before the shooting, that suggested he was having hallucinations about demons.

The messages were used as evidence at Jennifer Crumbley’s trial.

The first witness was Molly Darnell, a faculty member who was shot by a bullet that pierced her office door. Darnell, one of seven people wounded that day, stood, removed a jacket and showed jurors the spot on her upper left arm.

Darnell said that while she hid behind a cabinet, she texted her husband without telling him she had been shot.

“I love you,” she wrote. “Active shooter.”

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

Jennifer Crumbley, 45, is scheduled to return to court for her sentence on April 9. Her minimum prison term could be as high as 10 years.

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