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Michigan school shooter's dad insisted to police that gun, ammunition were hidden at home

James Crumbley arrives to court March 7, 2024
Mandi Wright
James Crumbley arrives to court March 7, 2024

Jurors saw a video of an interview between investigators and Ethan Crumbley's parents shortly after the mass shooting. James Crumbley insisted that a gun and ammunition were hidden at home.

The father of a Michigan school shooter told police shortly after the fatal attack that a gun and ammunition used by his son had been hidden at the family's home, according to a video seen by jurors Friday.

James and Jennifer Crumbley were interviewed in a small room at a sheriff's office while Ethan Crumbley was kept in another room. Two investigators spoke calmy as they tried to get as much information as possible from the parents.

“Is it possible for me to have a water? My mouth is super dry,” James Crumbley asked before the interview began.

James Crumbley, 47, is on trial for involuntary manslaughter in his 15-year-old son's killing of four students at Oxford High School. He’s accused of failing to secure the gun at home and ignoring signs of his son's mental distress.

The gun was “hidden in our armoire in the case, and the bullets were hidden in a different spot underneath some jeans,” James Crumbley declared, not adding anything more about how Ethan might have discovered them.

He said he “immediately raced home” when he learned about the shooting and “found the gun missing.”

“I called you guys right away to let you know,” James Crumbley said of a 911 call.

The gun, a Sig Sauer 9 mm, is a critical issue. Prosecutors said a cable lock given to James Crumbley when he bought the gun with Ethan four days earlier was still in the package.

“We go to the shooting range all the time. I've been trying to teach him safety,” James Crumbley told investigators.

The parents said their son had mediocre grades and was failing geometry. They wondered aloud if they should have a lawyer when speaking to police, but continued sharing information.

“I really wish we would have taken him home,” Jennifer Crumbley said.

She was referring to a meeting at the school a few hours ahead of the shooting. The Crumbleys had met with staff who gave them a drawing of a gun, blood, and a wounded person on Ethan's math assignment. There were anguished phrases: “The thoughts won't stop. Help me. My life is useless."

But the Crumbleys didn’t take their son home, and the school, concerned that he might be suicidal if alone, didn’t demand it. A counselor said Jennifer Crumbley seemed more concerned about returning to her job.

No one checked the boy’s backpack for a gun, however, and the nine-minute shooting happened that afternoon.

“Why? Why?” Jennifer Crumbley asked Ethan when detectives allowed the parents to see him.

“I love you,” James Crumbley said repeatedly.

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.

Defense attorney Mariell Lehman has told jurors that James Crumbley was not aware the son had access to the gun or could be a danger to others.

She noted during cross-examination of a detective Friday that James Crumbley was “incredibly emotional” at the sheriff's office.

“Yes,” Det. Sgt. Joe Brian said.

Earlier, jurors heard about the purchase of the gun. Shop manager Cammy Back said James Crumbley, accompanied by his son, paid roughly $520 in cash, including tax, for the firearm.

“The son was standing behind him,” Back testified. “Mr. Crumbley asked to see the Sig Sauer, said that he’d had his eye on it for quite some time.”

Ethan referred to the gun as “my beauty” on social media. When he pleaded guilty to murder and terrorism, he said that his money was used to buy the gun. That detail hasn’t emerged in his father’s trial because he's not a witness.

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

James Crumbley has been in jail since his arrest more than two years ago. The sheriff's office said Friday that his use of a phone and tablet would be restricted after he used them to make “threatening statements” while in custody.

Authorities didn’t elaborate on the threats. Neither did Judge Cheryl Matthews, who said he can use a phone or tablet only to communicate with his lawyer or clergy.

A gag order in the case bars attorneys from speaking to reporters. The trial will resume for a third day on Monday.

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