Oxford school shooter Ethan Crumbley to be sentenced Friday: I'll rot in prison 'like a tomato'

Teenager Ethan Crumbley will learn his punishment Friday for carrying out Michigan's deadliest mass school shooting, just as he had vowed to do in his journal: "I will cause the largest school shooting in the state. ... I will surrender to the police. I wish to hear the screams of the children as I shoot them."

Crumbley faces life in prison without the possibility of parole for murdering four classmates and injuring six others and a teacher at Oxford High School in November 2021 — a crime he committed using a gun that his dad purchased for him as an early Christmas present.

Watch live: Ethan Crumbley to be sentenced in Oxford H.S. shooting

The teenager wrote about that in his journal, too.

"All I need is my 9mm pistol, which I'm currently begging my dad for," the high school sophomore wrote.

Defense attorney Paulette Michel Loftin, left, stands with Ethan Crumbley and defense attorney Amy Hopp as they appear in court, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, in Pontiac.
Defense attorney Paulette Michel Loftin, left, stands with Ethan Crumbley and defense attorney Amy Hopp as they appear in court, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, in Pontiac.

On Black Friday that year, just four days before the massacre, James Crumbley took his then-15-year-old son on a shopping trip to fulfill his wishes. Ethan Crumbley gave his dad his own money to buy him the weapon of his choice.

"I got my gun. It's an SP2022 SIG Sauer 9mm," Crumbley wrote in his journal on the eve of the tragedy, adding: "The shooting is tomorrow, I have access to the gun and ammo ... the first victim has to be a pretty girl with a future so she can suffer like me."

Crumbley's sentence could be less than life

After two years of legal wrangling and emotional testimony by witnesses and survivors, Oakland County Circuit Judge Kwame Rowe concluded this summer that Crumbley is eligible for a sentence of life without parole for the murders of Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Justin Shilling, 17. In reaching his decision, Rowe held that there is a "slim" possibility that Ethan Crumbley could be rehabilitated, but that the teen had shown the judge no indication that he wants to change.

Oakland County Judge Kwame Rowe
Oakland County Judge Kwame Rowe

Still, however, because Crumbley was 15 at the time of the killings, the judge has options on Friday: He can give Crumbley life in prison or a shorter term — 25-40 years at a minimum — and an opportunity to live freely one day.

That's what Crumbley's lawyer, Paulette Michel Loftin, has long argued for, stressing that Crumbley is too young to be locked away forever, that he battled mental health issues with no help from his parents, and that he deserves the chance to prove he can be rehabilitated. The door to freedom should not automatically be locked to someone whose brain is still forming, she has argued, maintaining Crumbley can turn his life around with the right help and treatment in prison.

Traumatized victims and relatives of those killed get a chance to speak

But Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald maintains that Crumbley forfeited his right to ever live freely again, arguing he methodically plotted the shooting ahead of time, downloaded a school map, researched police response time to shootings and chose to surrender rather than commit suicide so that he could witness the suffering.

Crumbley's sentencing hearing will begin at 9 a.m. Victims and relatives of those who died will have a chance to tell the court how Crumbley's crime impacted their lives.

Sentences for school shooters over the last decade have ranged from fixed years to life.

For example, Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz got life without parole for murdering 17 people and injuring 17 others during the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in suburban Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

In South Carolina, 14-year-old school shooter Jesse Osborne also got life-without-parole for fatally shooting his father, and then opening fire on an elementary school playground, killing a 6-year-old and injuring three others before his gun jammed. However this fall, seven years after the killings, his sentence was reduced to 75 years in prison after his lawyer argued for a more lenient sentence.

In Florida, Forest High School shooter Sky Bouche was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2021 for opening fire on a classroom door with a sawed-off shotgun he hid in a guitar case, hitting a student in the ankle. He dropped the gun shortly after and surrendered. No one was killed.

School shooter's writings and recordings swayed judge

In the Oxford case, Crumbley himself delivered perhaps the most damning and chilling testimony that helped a judge conclude he is eligible for life without parole — not from the witness stand, but through his own video recordings, text messages and journal that detailed his obsession with torturing birds, killing other kids and shooting up his school.

With grieving families in the courtroom, prosecutors played audio clips from a video recording that Crumbley made the night before the shooting, a manifesto in which he stated:

"I have worn my mask for too long. I can't take it," Crumbley says in a monotone voice. "There’s no voices in my head. The voices are me … that’s what people call the demons. There are no demons. I am the demon."

He also discussed his fate in his journal, writing:

"I am going to spend the rest of my life in prison, rotting like a tomato."

Crumbley pleaded guilty to all his crimes in 2022. Victims and their families were at his guilty plea hearing, including the first student he shot: Phoebe Arthur, a freshman who survived gunshot wounds to the cheek, neck, a lung and two ribs. Her mom was there, too, and noted "it's interesting" that the teenage shooter took responsibility for his actions, but others have not.

She was referring to his parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, who are set to stand trial in January on involuntary manslaughter charges for their alleged roles in the shooting, and school officials, who have been sued in multiple lawsuits as parents allege they did not do enough to prevent the massacre.

Jennifer and James Crumbley, parents of Oxford school shooter Ethan Crumbley, break down in tears in the courtroom during a hearing in February 2022.
Jennifer and James Crumbley, parents of Oxford school shooter Ethan Crumbley, break down in tears in the courtroom during a hearing in February 2022.

According to court records and courtroom testimony, multiple teachers raised red flags about Crumbley's behavior in the days and months before the shooting. On the morning of the shooting, he drew a picture of a gun and a bleeding body on his math homework sheet, along with the words, "The thoughts won't stop. Help me." Crumbley and his parents were summoned to the counselor's office, though he was ultimately allowed to return to class. His parents never informed the school they had bought him a gun, and said they had to go back to their jobs.

The counselor feared Crumbley was suicidal and let him go back to his class. His backpack — which police say contained the gun — was never searched. Two hours later, he emerged from a bathroom and opened fire.

“We definitely still want accountability to be held from the parents and from the school because," parent Sandra Arthur Cunningham has argued, "they all played (a) part in this horrific, preventable tragedy.”

The Crumbleys have long maintained they had no way of knowing their son would carry out a school shooting. The Oxford school district has maintained it acted appropriately.

Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ethan Crumbley to be sentenced Friday for mass Oxford school shooting