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OXFORD, Michigan—Detailed descriptions of a wish to massacre classmates on his cellphone and in a journal. At least one social media post pointing to elation at access to a handgun bought by his dad. A mom who thanked Trump for “my right to bear arms.” And a meeting between his parents and school administrators about his conduct just hours before the attack.
Authorities on Wednesday identified the teenage suspect in the mass shooting a day earlier at Michigan’s Oxford High School as 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, painting a picture of a clear-eyed teen who planned and executed a rampage that left at least four students dead and seven others, a teacher among them, injured.
Crumbley, a sophomore, was previously flagged by administrators for “behavior in the classroom that they felt was concerning,” Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said Wednesday. He was called in to talk with school officials on Monday and Tuesday. Then, his parents were brought into the school the morning of the shooting for a face-to-face meeting about their son’s behavior, according to Bouchard. He wouldn’t say what the behavior was, and police weren’t informed about any potential issues prior to the tragic event.
Nathan Swanson, a 10th grader who was in some middle-school classes with Crumbley, told The Daily Beast that he was “really quiet, he would never talk to people.”
“He wore all black, I believe he was really into hunting,” Swanson said.
Ceree Morris, whose has two kids who attend the high school and were in the building during the shooting, told The Daily Beast that her younger son knew the suspected gunman and “was shocked” to learn he was the suspect.
Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said Crumbley, who was arraigned late Wednesday afternoon via video with his parents on the line, has been charged as an adult with one count of terrorism, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm. More charges may be added later, she said.
At Crumbley’s arraignment, Oakland County Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Willis told Judge Nancy Carniak that a search of the boy’s home turned up “two separate videos recovered from Ethan’s cellphone made by him the night before the incident, wherein he talked about shooting and killing students the next day at Oxford High School.”
He said a journal was also recovered from Ethan’s backpack, “detailing his desire to shoot up the school, to include murdering students.” A review of social-media accounts showed he had access to a firearm and practiced with a Sig Sauer handgun, Willis added.
Carniak ordered Crumbley, who pleaded not guilty and spoke only to say he understood the charges, to be held without bail. He was to be transferred from a juvenile detention center to the county’s adult jail, where he would be sequestered and placed under suicide watch, something Bouchard described as standard operating procedure.
McDonald also said in a Wednesday press conference that evidence showed Crumbley started planning the attack “well before the incident.”
“This isn’t even a close call,” she said. “This was absolutely premeditated.”
She said her office was weighing charging both of Crumbley’s parents, who have declined to speak with investigators, as well. “There is a mountain of digital evidence... we are confident that we can show there was premeditation,” she said.
Attempts to reach the parents and the family attorney on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Crumbley’s half-brother Eli spoke to the Daily Mail, describing his younger sibling as a “happy” and “average” kid who loved the game Minecraft and wanted to be an archaeologist. The two moved together from Florida to Michigan.
“It’s still hard to believe... The Ethan I knew was just a smart boy who just seemed like an average kid. There was nothing that ever stood out to me. He’d never get suspended from school, or detention,” Eli, 18, said, adding that he had no idea about Ethan’s possible motive.
Bouchard said footage showed Crumbley walking out of a bathroom on Tuesday afternoon before opening fire on victims randomly and at close range.
“Witnesses said he was tugging on doors,” he said. “We know from visible evidence he shot through doors.”
There were “one or two” private security guards working at the school on Tuesday, Bouchard added, and 911 operators fielded more than 100 calls as gunfire erupted and students hid in classrooms and tried to jump out of first-floor windows.
Crumbley surrendered about five minutes after the attack and handed over a semi-automatic handgun purchased by his father just four days ago, Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe said.
Investigators believe Crumbley was preparing to shoot more students; police found two 15-round clips and believe he may have had a third somewhere.
Crumbley, whose social media accounts were removed by Wednesday morning, was fairly active on YouTube as a young boy. On one account in his father’s name, he posted numerous videos of himself playing games such as Call of Duty, as well as shooting hoops with friends. He is said to have flaunted the newly purchased handgun in since-deleted posts.
No information about a possible motive has yet been released by authorities, although some have speculated that Crumbley was bullied in school. (Bouchard said investigators have not obtained any evidence of that.) Crumbley and his parents quickly invoked their right to remain silent and retained a lawyer after the shooting, McCabe said.
The boy’s father, James Crumbley, 45, has worked as a tech salesman and recently ran into legal trouble in Florida over child-support payments. A spokesperson for his last employer, a San Francisco-based company called Monarch that provides GPS tracking to the transportation industry, said Crumbley “briefly worked... as an independent contractor from February to July 2021” and “was terminated for reasons unrelated to this incident.”
Ethan Crumbley’s mother, Jennifer Crumbley, 43, worked as a real estate broker in the Oxford area, but her staff bio has now been taken down. Although James’ online presence demonstrates a preference for the Seattle Seahawks, his posts were not overtly political.
Jennifer, however, penned an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump, which she posted on her blog, in November 2016.
“Mr. Trump, I actually love that you are a bad public speaker because that showed sincerity, and humility,” she wrote. “You changed your mind, and you said ‘so what.’ You made the famous ‘grab them in the pussy’ comment, did it offend me? No. I say things all the time that people take the wrong way, do I mean them, not always. Do I agree that you should of [sic] shown your tax returns? No. I don’t care what you do or maybe don’t pay in taxes, I think those are personal and if the Gov’t can lock someone up over $10,000 of unpaid taxes and you slipped on by, then that shows the corruption.”
Crumbley went on to tell Trump that she hoped he would “really uncover the politicians for what I believe they really are,” and that he might “shut down Big Pharma, make health care affordable for me and my MIDDLE CLASS family again.” She was in favor of Trump’s long-promised border wall, and noted that she was “not racist” because her grandfather “came straight off the boat in Italy.”
“As a female and a Realtor, thank you for allowing my right to bear arms,” the letter continued. “Allowing me to be protected if I show a home to someone with bad intentions. Thank you for respecting that Amendment.”
She complained about parents at other schools where the “kids come from illegal immigrant parents” and “don’t care about learning.”
It was signed, “A hard working Middle Class Law Abiding Citizen who is sick of getting fucked in the ass and would rather be grabbed by the pussy.”
A resident who lives not far from the family in small-town Oxford told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that she spent the afternoon making blue and gold ribbons, the school’s colors, and hanging them around the block. One hung just feet from the Crumbleys’ home, a sage green bungalow with an American flag out front and small festive signs reading “joy” and “hello.”
The sleepy street of modest residences, many of them old homes that have been preserved and adorned with little signs, has a classic small-town feel. Flags dot the front doors of almost every other property and residents have weekly block parties in summer.
“We know each other by name and face, everyone waves and smiles, so this was a complete and total shock,” the resident, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, told The Daily Beast. She described the alleged shooter’s family as “good neighbors, there were no red flags,” but said she didn’t know them well.
The Oxford Bowling club invited past and present members to gather at the local bowling alley Collier’s on Wednesday evening. Justin Shilling, 17, who was the fourth—and latest—fatality, had been co-captain of the school’s bowling team.
“We are stronger together and I want to invite all who can make it to come to Collier’s tonight to be together. Not to bowl but to be together. Pray, cry, hug together as the family we are. If you need time alone so be it, but we are a family and we need each other at this senseless time,” a post on the team’s Facebook page read.
Past and present bowlers gathered at 6 p.m. and stayed mingling until around 9. “This community at this bowling center has been a safe zone for kids for four generations,” said Oxford High School bowling coach J.R. Lafnear. “We wanted the kids to know they can come here. They can bond. They can reunite. They can share. They can cry and not be judged and feel comfortable that they’re in a safe space.”
The coach, who said he didn’t feel comfortable commenting on either of his students, said the meeting was about providing the community with a refuge and a place to mourn a tragedy that had rocked their small community. The evening, according to alley owner Erica Tucker, raised close to $10,000 to go to “all of the families, everyone affected.”
“The kids needed to know there is a safe zone for them, people love them, there are resources for them to reach out if they need help, and that’s what we did tonight,” said Lafnear. “We wanted to make sure they came somewhere they felt comfortable, which was here, and that they got a message it’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to reach out if you’re hurting. It’s OK to say, I don’t feel well about this. So that’s what we wanted to make sure. And quite frankly as the head coach and my other coaches, we needed to see the kids. We needed to see them to make sure they were OK. It was healing for us as coaches and I hope it was healing for the kids.”
As Lafnear spoke to The Daily Beast, other attendees gathered and listened. Tucker, standing behind the bar, began to tear up and cry. The weight of Tuesday was still being processed. Oxford is a small town. The victims and the shooter were people they knew and in many cases had seen just days prior. Coming to terms with what had happened and how to talk about it was clearly still hard.
As the shooting left the community reeling, some restaurants closed in the aftermath to give their employees time to collect themselves.
“If you weren’t hit by a bullet, [it] doesn’t mean you weren’t terrorized that day and will have nightmares about it the rest of your life, whether you’re a parent, a teacher, or a student,” Bouchard said Wednesday.
“Going through that building in the wee hours of this morning, looking at disarray in the classrooms and the backpacks strewn across the floor, that had to have been an absolutely terrorizing moment in anyone’s life,” he added. “I don’t care if you’re an adult or child.”
Explaining why Crumbley was facing terrorism charges, McDonald said, “What about all the children at home right now who can’t eat, can’t sleep, and can’t imagine a world where they ever step back in that school? Those are victims too, and so are their families and the community, and the charge of terrorism reflects that.”
She added that it was time to get serious about gun safety in the United States.
“If the incident yesterday with four children being murdered and multiple kids being injured is not enough to revisit our gun laws, I don’t know what is,” she said.
Bouchard said police were already investigating emerging hoax threats of copycat shootings, calling it an “incredibly disturbing trend.”