Judge to decide if teen Oxford shooter can be sentenced to life without parole
- Law enforcement: Oxford High School shooter enjoyed, bragged about torturing birds, children
- Defense says shooter needed mental health help, grew up in abusive environment
- 26 states prohibit life without parole for juveniles, but not Michigan
LANSING — Ethan Crumbley mutilated birds, fantasized about torturing and killing children and researched methods and penalties for doing it before opening fire at the Oxford High School, killing four students and injuring seven others, according to testimony Thursday during an Oakland County Circuit Court hearing.
The hearing is to decide whether Crumbley — who carried out the shooting at age 15 but is charged as an adult — can be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
On Nov. 30, 2021, Crumbley went on a shooting spree, killing four classmates — Hana St. Juliana, 14, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, Tate Myre, 16, and Justin Shilling, 17 — injuring seven other people, and traumatizing thousands more in Oxford.
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The shooter pleaded guilty in October to 24 counts against him, including first-degree murder and terrorism causing death. During the pleading, he acknowledged to the judge he gave his father, James Crumbley, money to buy the 9mm Sig Sauer pistol he used for the killing.
His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, were also charged with allowing their son access to the weapon — a rare case of parents criminally charged for their child’s access to guns. The parents are asking the state Supreme Court to reverse a lower court’s decision and allow them to avoid standing trial.
On Thursday, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen MacDonald said in her opening statement the shooting is “unlike any other this country or state has ever seen,” both due to the death toll and the amount of preparation and research the shooter conducted beforehand.
“He decided in advance that he was not going to kill himself,” MacDonald said. “He stayed alive because he wanted to witness the suffering he created.”
Crumbley’s attorney, public defender Paulette Loftin countered the claim, arguing “there is a misconception by the public that mass shooters are evil monsters who simply snap and commit a shooting one day.”
Crumbley was “not one of those rare juveniles that is irreparably corrupt and without the ability to be rehabilitated,” she said.
In an orange prison uniform, Crumbley entered the courtroom around 9 a.m., when the hearing was scheduled to begin. Parents of victims who attended the hearing sat in front rows and began to weep, The Detroit News reported. At times, police officers who testified on the stand choked up upon recalling details of the shooting and the aftermath.
Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Kwamé L. Rowe, who is presiding over the case, will not announce a decision following the hearing. Instead, he will announce the date for his decision and another date for sentencing.
If the judge decides not to sentence Crumbley to life without parole, he must sentence Crumbley to a minimum of 25 to 40 years and a maximum of at least 60 years before asking the parole board for release, The Detroit News reported.
A total of 26 states have removed life without parole as an option for juveniles, but not Michigan. A set of bills backed by a bipartisan panel of lawmakers this year would prohibit life without parole for juveniles who committed certain crimes, including first-degree murder. Under the bills, a minor who commits first-degree murder would be sentenced to 10 to 60 years in prison.
Desire to torture, kill
In the months before the shooting, the teen repeatedly journaled about his desire to kill and to receive attention for doing so, according to testimony from Lt. Timothy Willis with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
“I am going to rain f—king fire down on this wall. I will cause the biggest school shooting in Michigan’s history,” according to a journal entry Willis read into the record Thursday.
On multiple occasions, Crumbley said he wanted to take away young lives that “had a whole life ahead of them.”
In journal entries Willis read during his testimony, the teen fantasized about kidnapping and raping a young girl as well as drowning other children.
In May 2021, Crumbley took an 8-minute video as he tortured a baby bird.
After killing the bird, the teen said in a separate text he could not remember half of the things he said and recalled the experience as “fun,” Willis said.
The teen also reviewed disturbing videos on school shootings, researched damages between different firearms and the penalties associated with school shootings, according to testimony.
A week before the shooting, the teen searched online whether the death penalty existed in Michigan. The penalty is outlawed in Michigan at the state level but can still be brought federally. He also searched for prisons in the state, executions in Michigan and the sentencing for another school shooter, whose name was not disclosed during the hearing.
At one point, he laid out his plan in a journal entry, stating he would surrender to the police after shooting up his school so he would spend his life in prison.
“I am fully committed to this now. So yeah, I’m going to prison for life and many people only have about one day to live,” Willis read from Crumbley’s journal a day before the shooting.
Detective recalls ‘chaos’
Surveillance footage showed Crumbley walking the hallways to gun down students on Nov. 30, 2021, said Detective Edward Wagrowski with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
Surveillance footage captured Crumbley shooting his victims and passing one of them “without a care,” Wagrowski said.
Shortly after the shooting, children rushed out of the school in freezing temperatures without their coats on, Willis, the lieutenant, recalled. More than 100 callers dialed 911 and more than 500 first responders showed up at the school afterward, he said.
“It was chaos,” Willis said.
Some kids who escaped did not have their shoes on, Wagrowski said.
“They looked like zombies,” he said. “A lot of them just stood there, just staring.”
Wagrowski wiped away tears when he recalled parents waiting for their children to get off the school buses that transported children from the school to the Meijer garden center in Oxford.
“I remember seeing parents just standing there … hoping that their kids get off the school buses that pulled up.”
Defense: Crumbley sought help
Loftin, Crumbley’s attorney, said the teenager sought help for his mental health, noting during the hearing multiple journal entries where the teen said “Help me.”
She also noted that police found no text messages between the parents where they “thoughtfully discussed” treating Crumbley’s mental health illness.
A day before the shooting, Crumbley’s mother sent a message to her son after a teacher discovered he was searching for ammunition online. The mother told him to “learn not to get caught.”’
Hours before the shooting, Crumbley’s parents were called to the school for an emergency meeting after a teacher discovered Crumbley’s violent drawings. The parents, however, refused to take the teenager home, and he was sent back to class, according to the authorities.
Loftin’s questions for Willis during cross-examination focused more on Crumbley’s mental health needs and expression of loneliness.
Crumbley’s neighbors told the police the father would scream at Crumbley when he was 4, and the mother once smacked him on his butt and dragged him indoors by his arm, The Detroit News reported.
"I talk to no one. I have very little talks with my parents and sometimes talk more with my cat Dexter than people," the teen wrote in his journal.
How to get help
If you need mental health support, please contact the state’s wellness hotline at 1-888-535-6136 and press "8" or online
Other resources include:
- The Michigan Crisis and Action Hotline (MiCAL) 844-44-MICAL (64225)
- Amala – The Muslim Youth Hopeline: Phone (855) 95 AMALA or (855) 952-6252
- Know the Signs: (800) 273-8255
- Mental Health America | Text MHA to 741741
- National Drug & Alcohol Abuse Hotline: (800) 662-HELP (4357)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
- Trevor Project (LGBTQ) (866) 488-7386
- Youth Crisis Line (Text/talk/chat): (800) 843-5200
- Veterans Crisis Line (800) 273-8255 Press 1
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