In its decision to uphold a ruling that sends the parents of the Oxford High School shooter to trial on involuntary manslaughter charges, the Michigan Court of Appeals laid out specific details that give more insight into events that preceded the shooting.
Since the fatal mass shooting at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021, and the subsequent charges issued against the now-convicted shooter and his parents, much evidence from the case has become public through numerous court hearings and news briefings. Prosecutors have used such evidence to argue that the shooter’s parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, played a role in the shooting by failing to take steps that might have prevented it.
After more than a year of hearings in various courts, it has been decided that the Crumbleys will go to trial for the four counts of involuntary manslaughter they each face in connection with the shooting. Each charge against the parents represents each student murdered by their son: 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana; 16-year-old Tate Myre; 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin; and 17-year-old Justin Shilling.
Throughout the last 16 months, prosecutors have shared details that describe the mental state of the Oxford shooter and his actions leading up to the massacre. The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office has shared disturbing details from the shooter’s journal, text messages, social media interactions and home life.
According to submitted evidence, the shooter expressed concern about hallucinations he was having to his parents on several occasions in an attempt to get help. The prosecution accuses the shooter’s parents of being grossly negligent toward their son by failing to provide proper care for him while knowing he was struggling with his mental health.
The shooter also apparently had an obsession with guns, and wrote frequently about school shootings in his journal. Prosecutors accuse the parents of purchasing a handgun for their son and failing to address concerns presented by school staff leading up to the shooting.
The state appeals court issued a ruling on Thursday, March 23, affirming a lower court’s decision to send James and Jennifer Crumbley to trial. In that ruling, judges go into extensive detail explaining the timeline of certain events that led up to the shooting. Some details were already known to the public, but some information might be new to some.
Below, we’ll lay out the timeline of text messages as shared by the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Text messages between shooter, parents
In the months leading up to the shooting, a number of text messages were sent between the shooter and his parents, and between him and his friend, discussing mental health concerns, among other things. The court described a number of these text interactions to show that the parents had reason to believe that their son was in distress and posed a danger to himself and/or others.
“Although it is unclear from the record exactly when evidence of his problems first arose, the record is clear that by early 2021 (the shooter) began verbalizing situations he was experiencing that reflected instability in his mental health,” court documents said.
The court begins by outlining a series of texts sent by the shooter to his mom one day in March in 2021. In these messages, the court says the shooter expressed desire for his mother to come home while describing his self-described paranoia and stress.
The court listed the following texts sent from the shooter to his mother that were sent shortly after one another:
- “(T)here’s someone in the house, I think”
- “someone walked into the bathroom and flushed the toilet and left the light on”
- “[a]nd I thought it was you, but when I came out there was no one home”
- “[t]here is no one in the house, though”
- “[d]ude, my door just slammed.”
Jennifer Crumbley did not respond to these messages. About 10 minutes later, the shooter reportedly sent two follow up messages saying:
- “maybe it’s just my paranoia”
- “but when are you going to be home[?]”
The mother responded to the messages the next morning, but neither of the parents called their son that night, the court said.
About a week later, the shooter was home alone again and sent more texts to his mother, concerned that there was a demon in the house:
- “[O]kay, the house is now haunted”
- “some weird shit just happens and now I’m scared”
- “I got some videos”
- “and a picture of the demon”
- “IT IS THROWING BOWLS”
- “I’m not joking [i]t f***ed up the kitchen”
- “I’m just going to be an outsider for a while”
- “can you at least text back[?]”
Jennifer Crumbley did not respond to any of these messages that day, the court said. However, pictures on her phone reportedly show that she was photographing herself and James Crumbley riding horses at the same time her son was sending the texts.
Two days after the texts about a demon, Jennifer Crumbley messaged her husband to see how their son was doing.
- James Crumbley: “he woke up looking like he had WAY too much to drink last night complaining about a headache”
- Jennifer Crumbley: “well, (he) was really worked up and out of control, so I can see why”
- Jennifer Crumbley: “All I know is he needs to eat, go to work and work hard and not complain and he can get his stuff back”
- James Crumbley: “He said, ‘let me ask you a question. Why am I in your guys’ room,’ LOL”
- Jennifer Crumbly: “OMG”
- James Crumbley: “I totally thought you were giving him Xanax last night.”
The mother responded saying she gave her son melatonin, the court said.
A few days later, on March 20, 2021, the shooter was reportedly home alone and again sent text messages to his mother one after another:
- “I cleaned until the clothes started flying off the shelf”
- “this stuff only happens when I’m home alone”
- “I picked the clothes back up, though”
In the court document, it is said Jennifer Crumbley did not respond to those messages. She was reportedly at the horse barn when those messages were sent.
The court then laid out texts from April 5, 2021, in which the shooter texted his friend about his mental health.
- “going to ask my parents to go to the doctor’s tomorrow or Tuesday again”
- “but this time I’m going to tell them about the voices”
- “I only told them about the people I saw”
“Amongst other things, (the shooter) told his friend that he had researched his symptoms and believed he was having a mental breakdown,” the court document reads.
In follow up text messages, the shooter told his friend that he requested medical help, but his father refused and instead gave him pills and told him to “suck it up.” The shooter said his mother laughed at the request and said he was using drugs and didn’t have any mental health issues.
The shooter then told his friend he considered calling 911 so someone would get him help, but he ultimately decided not to because he thought his parents would be mad at him if he did, the court said.
Three months before the shooting, the shooter was messaging his friend about guns.
“Communications between (the shooter) and his friend were about more than just mental health issues and problems with defendants,” the court ruling reads. “While many of the messages contained normal teenage banter, others involved conversations about wanting guns and making plans to buy them.”
- Shooter: sends 11-second video of him loading a magazine into a .22 Kel-Tec handgun registered to his father
- Friend: “niiice”
- Friend: “now, pull the trigger, JK JK JK JK”
- Shooter: “my dad left it out, so I thought, ‘why not?’ LOL”
- Shooter: “(I know) gun safety, so it’s no problem”
- Shooter: “now it’s time to shoot up the school”
- Shooter: “JKJKJKJKJK”
By October, the court says the text messages between the shooter and his friend showed that the shooter still believed he was having a mental breakdown, and that there were no signs he was going to get help.
“Near the end of October, (the shooter’s) conversations with his friend via text message stopped,” court documents said.
Nov. 29, 2021
As widely known, on the day before the shooting, the now-convicted shooter was looking up ammunition on his phone during class and was seen by a teacher. The teacher notified the dean and the shooter’s counselor.
The shooter met with the dean and his counselor that day, and agreed that looking up ammunition during class wasn’t appropriate. He also told them that guns were a hobby, and that he had just went to the shooting range with his mother.
Following the meetings, a voicemail was left for Jennifer Crumbley telling her about what happened. “The official did not request Jennifer call back, and she did not do so,” court documents said.
The mother then initiated a text conversation with the shooter that same morning.
- Jennifer Crumbley: “Seriously? Looking up bullets in school??”
- Shooter: “What?”
- Shooter: “Oh yeah. I already went to the office for that”
- Shooter: “It was in first hour. All I did was look up a certain caliber at the end of class because I was curious”
- Shooter: “It was on my phone. Completely harmless. The teachers just have no privacy”
- Shooter: “They said I’m all good. I understand why I [sic] they talked to me and they said that they that is am good [sic]”
- Shooter: “[t]his is nothing I should get in trouble about.
Jennifer Crumbley responded saying her son was not in trouble, just that she wanted him to know she got a voicemail about the situation.
- Jennifer Crumbley: “did you at least show them a pic of your new gun?”
- Shooter: “No, I didn’t show them the pic, my God”
- Shooter: “I only told them I went to the range with you on Saturday. It was a harmless act”
- Shooter: “I have this bullet cartridge in my room that I didn’t [know] what kind of bullet it was and it said it was a .22, so at the end of first hour I just looked up different types of .22 bullets, and I guess the teachers can’t get their eyes off my screen, SMH”
- Jennifer Crumbley: “LOL. I’m not mad. You have to learn not to get caught”
- Shooter: “(I know) LOL” with laughing emojis
The shooter then asked his mother to listen to the voicemail, and she said she saved it.
Jennifer Crumbley then talked about the voicemail with a co-worker, who later said the mother “did not seem concerned about the message,” court documents read.
Nov. 30, 2021
The events that occurred morning of the shooting have also been well documented publicly since the tragedy occurred.
It is well known that on that day, the shooter drew disturbing images and notes on a math worksheet that were seen by a teacher. The shooter tried to alter the disturbing messages, but a photograph had already been taken of the original drawings.
The shooter was called in to speak with his counselor again. During their interaction, the counselor determined that he thought the shooter exhibited potentially suicidal behavior.
The shooter’s parents were then called to school that morning to meet with the counselor and their son. The parents were urged to take their son out of school and get him counseling right away, which they declined because they said they had to return to work. The parents were then asked to get their son counseling within 48 hours.
The parents left the meeting at 10:54 a.m. and did not take their son home. The shooter, who was thought to be suicidal and therefore shouldn’t be left alone, remained at school.
Jennifer Crumbley had a horse-riding session scheduled for that afternoon. She texted the owner of the barn that she planned to bring her son to the lesson because he “can’t be left alone,” the court said.
- 12:21 p.m.: Jennifer Crumbley texted her son asking if he was OK.
- Around 12:21 p.m.: The shooter responded saying he was OK and had just finished lunch.
- Around 12:21 p.m.: Jennifer Crumbley texted, “you know you can talk to us and we won’t judge.”
- 12:45 p.m.: The shooter responded, “(I know) thank you. I’m sorry for that. I love you.”
The shooting began at about 12:52 p.m. and was over by 12:58 p.m. Four students were killed, and six other students and a teacher were injured.
An alert was sent out to Oxford High School parents telling them of an active shooter. When Jennifer Crumbley received that message at work, she started screaming, according to court documents.
- 1:18 p.m.: Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, “I love you too,” and “you ok?”
- 1:22 p.m.: Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, “Don’t do it”
- 1:23 p.m.: Jennifer Crumbley texted a co-worker saying, “the gun is gone and so are the bullets,” apparently referring to the newly purchased weapon that was missing from their home.
”Jennifer then called James and, while sounding frantic, said she was attempting to get to the school and expressed concern that (the shooter) was going to commit suicide and that (her son) ‘must be the shooter,’” the ruling reads.
At 1:34 p.m., James Crumbley called 911 and explained that he believed the son was the Oxford shooter, and that his gun and ammunition were missing from home.
Previous evidence coverage
Here’s some of our earlier coverage on evidence from the Oxford shooting:
Case against Crumbleys
In December 2021, the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office charged the Crumbleys with four counts of involuntary manslaughter -- one for each of the students killed by their son.
The prosecution accuses the parents of being grossly negligent toward their son by failing to provide proper care for him when he reported that he was having hallucinations and struggling with his mental health. Instead, the parents purchased a handgun for their son and failed to address concerns presented by school staff leading up to the shooting, prosecutors argue.
Gross negligence in Michigan means that a person willfully disregarded the results to others “that might follow from an act or failure to act,” according to the state. In this case, the Crumbley parents are accused of demonstrating a significant lack of concern about their son’s emotional state and actions and what he might do to himself or others without proper intervention from them.
Prosecutors believe the Crumbleys knew that their son posed a danger to others, and failed to provide “ordinary care” that could have prevented the mass shooting. According to prosecutors, that ordinary care could’ve included the Crumbleys taking their son home from school when called in for a meeting the morning of the shooting, or looking in his backpack during that meeting for the recently purchased gun, or storing that gun securely at their home, among other things.
Prosecutors have argued the parents neglected their son by failing to provide him with appropriate mental health care in the months before the shooting.
Court of appeals decision
Criminal negligence in Michigan is defined as the “failure to use reasonable care with respect to a material element of an offense to avoid consequences that are the foreseeable outcome of the person’s conduct with respect to a material element of an offense and that threaten or harm the safety of another.”
“Foresee” was a key part of the decision. Whether or not the parents could have foreseen the Nov. 30, 2021, mass shooting was the largest debate in the appellate courtroom.
While listening to arguments in the courtroom, the appellate judges did not say definitively whether they believed the Crumbleys could have foreseen the mass shooting carried out by their son. At least two of the three judges did say, however, that they believe causation would be easy to prove in this case.
The legal issue of “negligence” is broken down into a few sub-categories, including “causation.” There are multiple types of causation, including factual and proximate.
Factual causation determines if the incident -- in this case, a mass shooting -- would have occurred without the action or inaction of the defendants. The judges seemed to agree that factual causation was obvious in this case, saying that it’d be easy to prove that if the parents had taken their son out of school the morning of the shooting, the Oxford shooting wouldn’t have happened.
Proximate causation determines if there is a cause behind the incident that can hold the defendant legally liable in that incident. The prosecution said that in the lower court’s hearing of the case, the court focused more on factual causation than on proximate causation.
The defense claimed there wasn’t any argument for any causation between the Crumbley parents and the Oxford shooting.
The appeals court judges considered those arguments before affirming the lower court’s decision that the parents could be bound over for trial. The appeals court could have overturned the lower court’s decision, choosing not to send the parents to trial at all.
“Defendants’ actions and inactions were inexorably intertwined with (the shooter’s) actions,” the Thursday ruling reads, in part. “This connection exists not simply because of the parent-child relationship but also because of the facts showing that defendants were actively involved in (their son’s) mental state remaining untreated, that they provided him with the weapon used to kill the victims, and that they refused to remove him from the situation that led directly to the shootings. In this circumstance, a reasonable juror could conclude that defendants’ ‘conduct increase[d] the foreseeable risk of a particular harm occurring through ... a second actor’ ... and that what (the shooter) did at Oxford High School that day was foreseeable.”
You can read the entire court of appeals decision below.