A counselor testified Monday that he was “caught off guard” when the parents of a Michigan teenager refused to voluntarily take the boy home from school when confronted with a violent drawing their son made hours before he opened fire and killed four students.
Shawn Hopkins said Oxford High School didn’t demand that Ethan Crumbley go home because there were no discipline issues that day. Instead, Hopkins said he offered “multiple pages” listing mental health providers in the area and urged James and Jennifer Crumbley to seek help for their son as soon as possible.
“I didn’t feel as if it was going to be an absolute no,” Hopkins said of the prospect of the Crumbleys leaving campus with the 15-year-old after the meeting about the drawing. “But it was made quite clear that it wasn’t possible to do it that day. They had to return to work and were unable to do it.”
Hopkins was called to testify about the events that preceded the Nov. 30, 2021, attack, especially the crucial meeting with parents on the morning of the shooting. No one checked Ethan's backpack, which was where he had stowed a 9mm gun used to shoot 11 people.
Jennifer Crumbley, 45, is charged with involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors say she and her husband were grossly negligent and could have prevented the tragedy if they had tended to their son’s mental health. They’re also accused of making a gun accessible at home.
James Crumbley, 47, will stand trial in March. The couple are the first parents in the U.S. to be charged in a mass school shooting committed by their child. Ethan, now 17, is serving a life sentence.
Hopkins, who was a counselor to 400 students at Oxford, said some were stressed out in the fall of 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in its second year.
“We saw a lot of depression, anxiety, students struggling,” he recalled. “We saw suicide ideation and, unfortunately, suicide attempts.”
Hopkins said he was focused on Ethan's wellbeing. Earlier that fall, school staff had expressed concerns about the boy, based partly on his writings. A teacher said the shooter was also looking up bullets on his phone the day before the shooting.
On the day of the attack, Ethan drew images of a gun and a bullet on a math assignment, and the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” A teacher's discovery led the school to call in his parents for a meeting. The teen had explained that the drawing was an idea for a video game.
Hopkins said Jennifer Crumbley acted "like it was a little bit of an inconvenience to be there.”
He told jurors that he wanted Ethan to get help as soon as possible and not be left alone.
“I was a little caught off guard and a little confused,” Hopkins said when asked about the Crumbleys' decision to keep their son in school. “I wasn't really expecting that type of response. ... I was a little surprised at their willingness to come but then not completely follow through.”
He said the meeting, which lasted roughly 12 minutes, ended “fairly abruptly.” Hopkins handed Ethan a pass to return to class and told him, "I cared about him.”
He said the parents never disclosed that James Crumbley had purchased a gun as a gift for Ethan just four days earlier. He also didn’t know about Ethan's messages to his parents earlier in 2021 in which the teen wrote that he was seeing demons in the house and experiencing other hallucinations.
On cross-examination, Hopkins said he would have “taken different actions” if he had thought Ethan could be a threat to others.
Before going home for the day, jurors saw a police video of Jennifer and James Crumbley briefly visiting with their son following his arrest. Jennifer Crumbley repeatedly asked him, “why?” while his father told him, “I love you, I love you,” as they left.
Earlier Monday, the operator of an Oxford-area horse stable testified about her relationship with Jennifer Crumbley and a series of messages they exchanged on the day of the shooting and subsequent days before the parents' capture.
The Crumbleys owned two horses, and prosecutors have tried to show that they cared more for the animals than their son.
Jennifer Crumbley said she needed to quickly raise cash after the shooting and was willing to sell a horse, Billy, for $5,000, plus a saddle and other gear for $800. She promised to deliver medication for the horse's foot disorder.
“I wish we had warnings," she wrote to Kira Pennock, referring to her son. “I'm glad Billy good. Kills me to sell him.”
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