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Former dean says there was no reason to search Michigan school shooter’s backpack for gun

The former dean of students at Oxford High School testified in a Michigan court Tuesday that he returned Ethan Crumbley’s backpack to him on the morning of November 30, 2021, unknowingly providing him with the gun used later that day in the mass shooting.

The former dean, Nicholas Ejak, even made a joke related to the backpack’s weight, he said Tuesday at the involuntary manslaughter trial of the shooter’s mother, Jennifer Crumbley.

“I made a joke to Ms. Morgan about how easily she picked it up, and then (she) handed it to me and my arm dropped, so it was more of a joke of how strong she was compared to handing it off to me,” he said.

Nobody searched the backpack because there was no reason to suspect any wrongdoing.

“It wasn’t necessary or rise to the occasion that I do that, because I didn’t have any reasonable suspicion that I do that,” he said.

Ejak then handed over the backpack to Ethan after school officials met with him and his parents to discuss disturbing drawings he had made on a math worksheet earlier that morning.

Unbeknownst to those in the meeting, Ethan had hidden a firearm and ammo in his backpack that day, taken from the Crumbley household. Shortly after, he took his bag into the bathroom, pulled out the gun and opened fire, killing four students and injuring seven others.

Jennifer Crumbley has pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of the four students. Her husband, James Crumbley, faces the same charges at his scheduled trial in early March.

Prosecutors have accused her of gross negligence for disregarding the risks when she and her husband bought their son a gun four days before the shooting, even though he was struggling with his mental health and experiencing hallucinations. They also said his mother did not mention the gun or mental health issues to school officials in a meeting to discuss Ethan’s disturbing drawings just hours before the fatal shooting.

Her attorney Shannon Smith argued in opening statements that the blame lay elsewhere: On her husband for purchasing the firearm and encouraging the hobby; on the school for failing to notify her about her son’s behavioral issues; and on Ethan himself, who actually pulled the trigger. The defense indicated during opening statements that Jennifer Crumbley would testify.

Ex-dean explains key meeting with parents

The former dean’s testimony Tuesday focused on the pivotal meeting on the morning of the shooting.

Ethan Crumbley had been called into the meeting with Ejak, school counselor Shawn Hopkins, and Jennifer and James Crumbley that morning to discuss Ethan’s disturbing writings on a math worksheet, including the phrases “blood everywhere” and “my life is useless” and drawings of a gun and bullet.

Hopkins, who testified Monday, recommended the parents take Ethan out of school and get immediate mental health assistance, but his parents declined and said they didn’t want to miss work. The parents did agree to take their son to a mental health professional within 48 hours.

Ejak said the parents’ decision not to immediately take him to get help was “a little odd.”

“Typically, when it’s recommended, the parents take their children to seek out mental assistance immediately, they follow the direction of the mental health professional, and that’s been my experience every time,” he said.

Instead, Ethan was allowed to return to class, and Ejak brought him his backpack.

On cross-examination, Ejak acknowledged that the shooter had no history of school discipline, and that the drawings and other classroom incidents did not rise to the level of discipline. He also said he had training on how to identify threats in school and did not view Ethan’s actions as threatening.

“There was no threat present at the time,” he said.

However, on redirect, Ejak said he did not know and was not told by Jennifer Crumbley that Ethan had access to a firearm and had been having mental health issues in recent months.

Photos of Crumbley home released

A photo of Ethan Crumbley’s room taken shortly after the shooting on November 30, 2021, was shown at his mother's manslaughter trial on Tuesday. - Pool/WWJ/WXYZ
A photo of Ethan Crumbley’s room taken shortly after the shooting on November 30, 2021, was shown at his mother's manslaughter trial on Tuesday. - Pool/WWJ/WXYZ

Also in court Tuesday, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Det. Adam Stoyek testified he conducted a search of the Crumbleys’ home after the shooting and took photos of the residence.

The photos of Ethan Crumbley’s messy room show two bullet-riddled gun range targets hanging on his wall and a bowl of spent shell casings on his bedside table. Several BB guns and pellet guns also were found around the house, the photos show.

Two bullet-riddled gun range targets were affixed to the wall in Ethan's room. - Pool/WWJ/WXYZ
Two bullet-riddled gun range targets were affixed to the wall in Ethan's room. - Pool/WWJ/WXYZ

During the search, James Crumbley directed investigators to a gun case inside a cabinet in the parents’ bedroom that held two firearms, Stoyek testified. The code to get into the case was 000, the default setting, he said.

Andrew Smith, Jennifer Crumbley’s work supervisor at the time of the shooting, testified he received a text from her about her employment just hours after the mass shooting.

“I need my job. Please don’t judge me for what my son did,” she wrote in the text.

“I was a little bit taken aback,” Smith testified. “Surprised she was worried about work right then.”

He also testified that company employees had paid time off and that Jennifer Crumbley could have taken the day off to deal with childcare issues.

At the time of that text to her boss, Jennifer Crumbley was in the back of a police vehicle, according to video shown in court. The video also showed that she expressed difficulty understanding why her son carried out the shooting.

“I’m kind of in shock. He’s never been in trouble. He’s never done anything, he’s never done anything wrong. He’s a good kid,” she said. “This is (messed) up. My son just ruined his life. I’ll probably never see him again.”

“I don’t get it,” she added later. “I don’t get what happened.”

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