Jennifer Crumbley says she wishes son had 'killed us instead' as she took stand in manslaughter trial

Crumbley has pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

February 1, 2024, 5:37 PM

Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of Michigan school shooter Ethan Crumbley, testified she and her husband often argued with their son about missing school assignments and said she could have "easily" taken him home on the day of the attack as her manslaughter trial continued Thursday with her taking the stand in her own defense.

Jennifer Crumbley and her husband, James Crumbley, are each facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the school shooting, which was carried out by their then-15-year-old son Ethan. James Crumbley is being tried in a separate trial in March.

Ethan Crumbley has been sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing four students and injuring seven others in November 2021.

Defense attorney Shannon Smith, left, speaks to her client Jennifer Crumbley, back right, on the stand in the Oakland County courtroom, Feb. 1, 2024, in Pontiac, Mich.
Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press via AP

After several hours of testimony, Jennifer Crumbley got emotional on the stand, admitting that she "failed."

"I don't think I'm a failure as a parent," Crumbley said. "But at the time, I guess I didn't see ... I don't know, I guess I just failed somewhere. I don't really know how to describe it. I guess at that point in time I just kind of felt like somewhere I failed."

Crumbley said she doesn't believe there was a reason for her to know her child was a danger to others.

"No, as a parent, you spend your whole life trying to protect your child from other dangers," Jennifer Crumbley said. "You never would think you'd have to protect your child from harming somebody else. That's what blew my mind. That was the hardest I had to stomach is that my child harmed and killed other people."

"I've asked myself if I would have done anything differently and I wouldn't have," she said. "I wish he would have killed us instead."

Oakland County Sheriff Lt. Timothy Willis holds up Ethan Crumbley's journal so the jury can see it as Jennifer Crumbley sits at Oxford High School in the Oakland County courtroom, Feb. 1, 2024 in Pontiac, Mich.
Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press via AP

Jennifer Crumbley testified Thursday that she was concerned when she saw the drawings her son had done the morning of the shooting and said she thought he would get suspended when she was called to the school for a meeting.

Crumbley said that she was told by school officials that they didn't feel her son was a risk and offered to allow him to stay at school.

"It was pretty nonchalant, pretty brief," Crumbley said of the meeting, adding that the school counselor had given them good advice about dealing with her son.

Crumbley pushed back against testimony provided by school officials earlier in the trial that the parents did not want to take their son home the morning of the shooting. On the stand, Crumbley denied wanting to leave her son at school, saying her son got very stressed when doing school virtually. She said they all agreed it would be better for him to remain at school in person, surrounded by students.

"There was never a time where I would refuse to take him home. I could easily, if he wanted to go, take them with me. I had no issues with that," Crumbley said.

Jennifer Crumbley said she didn't think that the ending of the meeting was abrupt, pushing back against school officials' testimony.

Jennifer Crumbley enters court after a recess in an Oakland County courtroom, Feb. 1, 2024, in Pontiac, Mich.
Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press via AP

Jennifer Crumbley, who was arrested while hiding in a warehouse with her husband after a manhunt when they did not show up for a scheduled arraignment, testified that she planned to turn herself in one day after charges were filed against her.

However, she said they didn't feel safe to turn themselves in on the day they were charged because everyone in the state knew that they were expected to turn themselves in.

After the jury was dismissed from the courtroom, prosecutors asked the judge to allow into evidence a text message sent from Jennifer Crumbley to her attorney the night the parents were arrested that they said contradicts her testimony. Crumbley testified on Thursday that she and her husband had each taken four Xanax pills and fell asleep before 11 p.m., but prosecutors said the text message was sent after 11 p.m., contradicting her testimony. The judge did not issue an immediate ruling as court wrapped for the day.

Hitting back at more testimony presented by prosecutors earlier in the trial, Jennifer Crumbley testified that her husband had insurance coverage for her son up until October 2021 when her husband lost his job.

Prosecutors pointed out during testimony from her employer's CEO that she was only enrolled in health care for herself through the company -- allegedly a sign of a lack of concern for her son. She testified on Thursday that she had planned to add Ethan Crumbley to her health care coverage at the end of the enrollment period in November 2021.

Defense attorney Shannon Smith shared emails between school officials discussing Ethan Crumbley saying that his family was "a mistake," to which Jennifer Crumbley responded that she was never made aware of the concerning writings. She also said she was not made aware of emails shown in court discussing her son doing poorly in school and falling asleep in a class.

Jennifer Crumbley also answered questions on texts from her son showing a picture of a demon, which the prosecution had argued was an ignored warning sign. Crumbley said she had not responded to the messages and testified that she does not recall seeing them until they were found in the case's discovery.

But Jennifer Crumbley also dismissed the messages as her son "just messing around." Ethan Crumbley was convinced that their house was haunted since 2015, Jennifer Crumbley testified, adding that the family often joked around about their house being haunted. After a lamp fell of a ledge in the house, she said they jokingly named a ghost in the house Victoria.

Jennifer Crumbley testifies during her trial, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, in Pontiac, Mich. Crumbley, 45, is charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press via AP, Pool

Pushing back against evidence presented by the prosecution, Jennifer Crumbley said her son never came to her to ask for help or to ask to see a doctor. In texts to a friend, Ethan Crumbley had said he asked his mother to go see a doctor but she laughed and said no.

Jennifer Crumbley also testified that her son never told her he was hearing voices. She said she never felt that he needed counseling or treatment ahead of the shooting.

Elaborating on messages between her and the mother of Ethan Crumbley's friend regarding Ethan Crumbley being moody and "depressed" ahead of the shooting, Jennifer Crumbley said that she did not think it warranted getting him help. Crumbley said her son was just being quieter than usual.

"As to why he was being depressed, the online school is horrible," Crumbley said on the stand.

Crumbley also admitted on the stand Thursday to having an affair with her friend Brian Meloche -- one day after he discussed the relationship in his own testimony.

She told the jury that Meloche was a long-time friend who was also a part of the horse community; Jennifer was a regular rider, with her texts to her husband from the horse farm featuring earlier in testimony. She said she saw Meloche an average of once a week and the affair lasted about six months.

Jennifer Crumbley testified that she believes the affair did not cause her to neglect her son in any way, saying the two met in the mornings while her son was at school. Crumbley also said it has been over two years since she spoke to her husband James Crumbley but the two are still married.

Jennifer Crumbley testified that Ethan Crumbley's friend, who moved away before the shooting, was the only friend who came over to the house. She said it was a surprise when the friend moved away, but added Ethan did have other friends at school.

Defendant Jennifer Crumbley, left, speaks with her attorney during her jury trial at the Oakland County Courthouse, Jan. 31, 2024, in Pontiac, Mich.
Katy Kildee/Detroit News via AP

Smith entered into evidence many family pictures posted by Crumbley online, showing them traveling, playing games and even a photo of her son with their horse. Crumbley testified that they did a lot of family trips, even during the summer of 2021, months before the shooting.

Testifying about when she first heard about the shooting, Crumbley said that she didn't imagine her son was the school shooter. She said she texted him "Ethan don't do it" because she thought he was going to kill himself. When she sent the text, Crumbley said she didn't think he had shot or killed anyone.

Crumbley said she didn't think there would be any injuries or fatalities. When she heard there were injuries, she recalled thinking, "We can handle injuries."

After the shooting, Crumbley said she was receiving threats and was worried that something would happen to her and her husband.

Earlier, prosecutors and Smith clashed over admitting evidence Smith previously sought to suppress. The two sides were at odds over admitting excepts from Ethan Crumbley's journal, including information about him torturing birds, the latter of which ended up not being admitted at Smith's request.

As the prosecution wrapped its testimony early Thursday, writings from Ethan's journal were presented by Oakland County Sheriff's Detective Lt. Timothy Willis. The journal and roughly 90 loose papers with school assignments -- 50 of which Ethan had drawn guns on -- were found in Crumbley's backpack after the shooting.

Willis testified there were 22 pages of written information in the journal, all of which referenced a school shooting.

Lead investigator for the Oxford High School shooting Lt. Timothy Willis gets emotional as he testifies in the trial of Jennifer Crumbley in the Oakland County courtroom, Feb. 1, 2024 in Pontiac, Mich.
Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press via AP

Ethan Crumbley wrote in an entry apparently from before the shooting that he planned to shoot up his school the next day.

"I want to shoot up the school so f------ badly," one of the excerpts said. "Soon I am going to buy a 9 mm pistol."

"I'm about to shoot up the school and spend the rest of my life in prison," the shooter wrote in another excerpt.

In other excerpts, the shooter appeared to be writing about wanting help.

"I want help but my parents don't listen to me so I can't get any help," the shooter wrote.

Jennifer Crumbley testified Thursday that before the shooting she never felt that her son needed mental health care, but also said she never denied a request from him to get help.

Police also had concerns on the day of the shooting that there were secondary devices or bombs at other locations around the school, Willis testified.

As video evidence from the high school on the day of the shooting was shown in court Jennifer Crumbley was seen crying.

ABC's Mark Remillard reports:

ABC News' Whitney Lloyd contributed to this report.