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Jennifer Crumbley's parenting of shooter son picked apart during closing arguments

Crumbley, 45, is facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of four students at Oxford High School killed by her son, Ethan, in 2021.
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PONTIAC, Mich. — Jurors were left Friday with two depictions of Jennifer Crumbley at the end of closing arguments in her trial: on one hand, an aloof mother who had multiple chances to prevent her son's deadly school rampage, and on the other, a hypervigilant but imperfect parent who could not have foreseen such violence.

Whether Crumbley's decisions around the time her son, Ethan, opened fire at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021, make her partially responsible for his actions will play into the jury's finding of guilt or innocence of involuntary manslaughter.

Deliberations are expected to begin Monday in the unprecedented trial — a rare attempt to hold the parent of a school shooter accountable.

"I am Jennifer Crumbley," her lawyer, Shannon Smith, told jurors during her closing argument, implying that any parent who is working and raising teenagers may inadvertently find themselves in the defendant's position.

"This case is a very dangerous one for parents out there," she added.

During her closing argument, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald reviewed testimonies from the almost two dozen witnesses called, from school staff to Crumbley's co-workers, seeking to lay out how Crumbley did not appear invested in her teenage son and then was overcome with a "consciousness of guilt."

"I showed you everything. I called witnesses to the stand to say things I know you probably didn't like," McDonald said, referring to harrowing testimony and video shown to jurors of the shooting, "but my job is to give you all the facts. But my job is also to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jennifer Crumbley is guilty, and I believe we did that."

She listed several examples of what Crumbley could have done to stave off the shooting when she and her husband, James, went to Oxford High School earlier that day to meet with school counselors concerned about a drawing that Ethan made of a gun and a person who was shot.

She said Crumbley could have warned the counselors that her husband had bought Ethan a gun, or checked her son's backpack, or gone home to ensure the weapon was locked, or taken her son home or with her to work.

"The tragic thing about it is none of that was hard," McDonald said. "The smallest thing, just the smallest thing could have saved" the four students who were killed, referencing victims Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17.

The jury must decide if Crumbley, 45, is guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of the four students by either failing to store the firearm in a way that would have obstructed her son from gaining access to the gun and ammunition, or failing to exercise "reasonable care" of her son and prevent him from carrying out the mass shooting.

Earlier Friday, prosecutors sought to pick apart Crumbley's self-description as a "vigilant parent and helicopter mom" when she returned to the stand. They suggested she was consumed with her hobbies, such as her horses, and an extramarital affair to notice her son's deteriorating mental state.

"On November the 30th of 2021 at 12:51 p.m., you could have been with him?" Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor Marc Keast asked Crumbley during his cross-examination.

"I could have, yes," Crumbley said.

"And you didn't?" Keast asked.

"Nope," she replied.

That fateful decision to leave her then-15-year-old son at school was part of a pattern of choices that prosecutors believe builds a case alleging Crumbley was unlawfully negligent.

During cross-examination, the prosecution hammered on the idea that Crumbley was aware of warning signs that Ethan was troubled, "depressed" and "acting sad," particularly when a best friend moved away, and yet she never thought to seek the help of a mental health professional in the months before the shooting.

And they questioned her about her previous testimony, in which she said it was her husband who bought him the semi-automatic handgun, and that while she took her son to a gun range the weekend before the mass shooting, she left the storage of the weapon to her husband.

That "was his thing," she testified Thursday.

Keast said that while she may have "entrusted" the responsibility of storing the gun to her husband, it was "pretty clear you didn't trust James with much," noting that she had issues with him holding down a job, handling his money and even getting out of bed on time.

James Crumbley, 47, is expected to stand trial next month on the same involuntary manslaughter charges.

Even after Jennifer and James Crumbley were arrested after law enforcement found them holed up in an art studio in Detroit, prosecutors suggested she still didn't have concern for her son, who was immediately held following the shooting.

Prosecutors played her phone calls from the Oakland County Jail in which she asked her father to set up a GoFundMe to pay for the boarding of her horses and to Google how many calories are in a bologna sandwich and other food.

Keast questioned why she didn't mention her son in any jail phone calls for the first 10 days of her arrest. She responded that she didn't think she could.

Emotions ran high throughout the weeklong trial, as jurors heard from survivors of the shooting and watched video of the massacre from inside the high school. Crumbley, too, has sobbed repeatedly from her seat.

The jury on Thursday heard excerpts from Ethan Crumbley's journals in which he wrote, "My parents won't listen to me about help or a therapist," expressed his desire to "shoot up" his school and said he was going to get a 9 mm pistol.

The prosecution hit back during its cross-examination on Friday that she was preoccupied with her pursuits, including maintaining an affair that included meeting at a Costco parking lot once a week and even arranging a meetup on AdultFriendFinder, an app for sexual encounters.

"And that took your time and energy and focus?" Keast asked. 

"I don't believe it took that much time, no," Crumbley said.

Later Friday, during her closing argument, Smith accused the prosecution of "cherry-picking" text conversations and messages to make Crumbley appear as negligent.

She said, in turn, that the messages Ethan would send his mother, including that he was seeing demons and that "the house is haunted," were examples of how they communicated.

"This family played together, they had fun. They did what families do," Smith said. "The prosecution had zero context because they had tunnel vision that she was doing something wrong and was grossly negligent and were hell-bent on convincing you that was the case."

She also doubled down on the idea that Crumbley didn't do something to help her son because she simply didn't recognize any mental distress.

"No parents would purchase a weapon if they believed their child had mental illnesses," Smith said. "These are people who had two other guns in the house for months where nothing ever happened with those guns."

While Crumbley's "messy life," including her extramarital affair, became a facet of her trial, Smith urged the jury not to hold that against her.

"Most people who have affairs would still not expect their child to do this," Smith said.

Selina Guevara reported from Pontiac and Erik Ortiz from New York.