Oxford school officials contradict damning narrative about Crumbleys – Detroit Free Press

James and Jennifer Crumbley never refused to take their son home from school after learning about a violent drawing he made in class, nor did a school counselor insist they remove him or threaten to call Child Protective Services, according to explosive depositions that contradict prosecution assertions about the parents of the Oxford school shooter.
In hundreds of pages of revelatory documents obtained by the Free Press, a school dean, counselor, anti-bullying coordinator and three teachers offer new details about what they witnessed in the months, days and hours before 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley carried out a mass shooting at Oxford High School last year that killed four students and injured six others and a teacher. Their disclosures, made under oath in lawsuit depositions stemming from the shooting, mark the first time the public gets to hear from the school officials themselves who dealt with Ethan — not the lawyers on either side who have controlled the narrative thus far.
Among the new details to emerge include statements by two teachers that school officials were “beating themselves up” over not checking Ethan Crumbley’s backpack; that police allegedly ignored a staffer’s pleas to enter the building after shots were fired; and that one of Crumbley’s few friends had recently left the school and was institutionalized.
Perhaps most noteworthy on the legal front are admissions by a school counselor and the dean of students that contradict a widely publicized narrative about the shooter’s parents: that hours before the massacre, the Crumbleys refused to get their son immediate help and insisted he be returned to class after learning about a drawing he had made of a gun, blood and the words “The thoughts won’t stop, help me.”
“I did not state that they refused,” school counselor Shawn Hopkins said in a September deposition, in which he explained how and why he made the decision to keep Ethan Crumbley in school that day.
Dean of Students Nicholas Ejak also disclosed that while officials recommended that the Crumbleys get their son into therapy, they agreed that it didn’t have to be done right away.
“We didn’t insist that they do it immediately, especially after they said they had to return to work. But Ethan wasn’t in need of immediate care by any means,” Ejak testified in his September deposition. ” It was just important that he talked with somebody … get started in some type of outside counseling.”
Ejak later added: “There would have been no reason for him to go home.”
The depositions were taken by Ven Johnson Law, which is representing the families of four students killed in the mass shooting and several others who were injured. Depositions, unlike testimony in court, do not permit cross-examination. The six individuals deposed did not respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuits allege school officials missed numerous red flags that Ethan Crumbley was a “highly troubled individual” and could have prevented the tragedy had they taken proper actions, such as scrutinizing his behavior more closely when they suspected something was off, removing him from class when he was researching bullets and drawing disturbing images.
And checking his backpack.
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For Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, the depositions may throw a legal wrench into her novel criminal case that seeks to hold the Crumbley parents responsible for the deaths of four students. She has long argued that the Crumbleys — more than anyone else — were in a position to prevent the shooting as they were the ones who bought their troubled son a gun and failed to tell the school about it.
“The evidence will … show that they refused to take their son home even after being informed that he was suicidal,” the prosecution argued in an October court filing.
Former Oxford Superintendent Tim Throne made a similar allegation last year, telling school parents in a letter: “When the parents were asked to take their son home for the day, they flatly refused and left without their son.” Throne also claimed that “his parents were notified that they had 48 hours to seek counseling for their child or the school would call Child Protective Services.”
Neither of those things happened, according to the counselor who was with the family that day.
On Wednesday, Oakland County Chief Assistant Prosecutor David Williams said in a statement to the Free Press, “It’s important for the public to understand that the standards for civil and criminal liability are different. Our first priority is complete transparency with the Oxford community. As we have previously stated, our office has reviewed all of the evidence that we have been presented so far, and we will continue to do so.”
The documents show that neither the dean of students nor the counselor told the Crumbleys that their son was suicidal — only that they felt he had “moderate sadness” after the teen disclosed that he was sad about his grandparent dying, his dog dying and his close friend leaving the school. The counselor said school officials told the parents that their son needed to get into therapy soon to avoid him developing depression or becoming suicidal.
“They never said they weren’t going to. They said they would get him into (counseling). So when they left there, I felt confident that they were going to do that,” Ejak, the dean of students, said in his deposition.
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Hopkins, the school counselor, said that after the parents asked if “it was possible for Ethan to say in school that day,” he determined that it was in Ethan’s best interest to be in school over an empty house after considering the following: His attendance was good. He was passing all but one class. He was on track for graduation. And he was sad.
“We know that students are happier when they’re with their peers,” Hopkins said during his deposition. “Keeping a student who has displayed sadness … in a controlled peer setting was what ultimately I decided would be best after that meeting.”
Hopkins appeared to contradict himself at times in his deposition. At one point, the lawyer asked him if this was the first time he had recommended to a set of parents taking their child out of school to get help “where the parents apparently refused to take the student home.”
“That is correct,” Hopkins said, though when asked about it again, he said: “They were not able to do it that day … I did not state that they refused.”
Hopkins said that he told the parents he would follow up with them in 48 hours.
“I did not tell them I was going to call CPS if they didn’t follow through,” Hopkins said, though he added he was planning that.
McDonald, meanwhile, has long blamed the parents for the tragedy and has charged them with involuntary manslaughter, maintaining their silence and “gross negligence” caused the deaths of Tate Myre, 16, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, Hana St. Juliana, 14, and Justin Shilling, 17.
Ethan pleaded guilty to their murders in October, admitting he pulled a gun out of his backpack while in a bathroom stall before opening fire in a hallway. He faces up to life in prison with no chance at parole when he is sentenced next year.
“Unfortunately, he was allowed to go back to class,” McDonald has previously stated. “All (the parents) had to do was tell the school that they recently purchased a gun for their son, and asked him where the gun was, open his backpack, or just take him home.”
But school officials didn’t ask the parents whether their son had access to a gun, either, their depositions show. Nor did they search Ethan’s backpack — which has become a sore point for the victims. Their lawyers have argued the school officials should have asked if the teen had a gun and searched the bag, given all the red flags raised that school year, especially in the 24 hours before he shot up his school: He was researching bullets, looking at a movie of someone gunning down people and drawing the gun and blood on his math worksheet.
The warnings were made by three different teachers, including one who on the day before the shooting dug up a self-portrait Crumbley drew in August of a person in glasses holding a gun.
And a Spanish teacher had reached out to the counselor in September with concerns about Crumbley not doing well, then again in November — though she was portrayed as a “worrier” by at least one school official.
Nonetheless, school officials said nothing rose to the level of a real threat, and having to check Crumbley’s bag.
“There was no reason to look into the backpack,” Ejak, the dean of students, said in his deposition. “I had no reasonable suspicion to look inside.”
Hopkins echoed that, stating: “I had no reason to look in his backpack based on the information I had.”
The school district, meanwhile, has asked the courts to dismiss lawsuits against the district and the six named staffers, arguing the defendants are protected by government immunity. In a filing last month, the district argued that the plaintiffs’ claims of gross negligence “are based on allegations that more could have been done with the benefit of hindsight.”
Moreover, the district argues, based on the depositions, “it is evident that each of the individual Oxford defendants’ actions demonstrate substantial concern for the welfare of their students.”
According to more than a thousand pages of detailed depositions of six school officials, Ethan Crumbley first appeared on the radar in Oxford High counseling offices on Sept. 8, 2021, when Spanish teacher Diana McConnell emailed counselor Hopkins.
“Hi Shawn. Could you please touch base with Ethan Crumbley?” McConnell wrote. “In his autobiography poem, he said that he feels terrible and that his family is a mistake. Unusual responses for sure.”
Hopkins responded an hour later that he would follow up. But the Spanish teacher notified him sometime after that she had learned that Crumbley had written this as a joke in a group setting with friends. So Hopkins never followed up.
“It lowered my potential concerns … when I found out that he was actually doing it as a joke,” Hopkins said in his deposition, triggering a terse response from the lawyer questioning him.
“You have no clue of truly whether Ethan Crumbley felt his family was a mistake because you never spoke to him that day, did you?” plaintiffs attorney Johnson asked Hopkins.
“I had no reason to talk to him,” Hopkins responded.
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Two months later, Hopkins received another email from the Spanish teacher.
“Hi Shawn. Ethan is having a rough time right now. He might need to speak with you,” the teacher wrote in the Nov. 10 email, just 20 days before the shooting.
The next day, Hopkins waited for Crumbley outside a classroom and talked to him in the hallway. “I let him know that I’d heard he might be going through something and that I wanted to let him know I was available to talk if he should need that,” Hopkins recalled. “He just simply said, ‘Okay.'”
They didn’t talk further.
Then came Nov. 29, the day before the shooting.
At the end of Crumbley’s first-hour English class, teacher Jacqueline Kubina saw him looking at a Google stock image on his cellphone of brass-encased bullets. She had just handed him back his essay that he had written about helicopter parents and how children needed more privacy, when she saw the bullet images on his phone, which lay flat on his desk.
Crumbley didn’t try to hide it.
“It caught my attention … it was not an appropriate picture to be looking at during the school day,” Kubina said, adding that while hunting and shooting are “common sport” in Oxford, Ethan’s actions prompted her to do a little digging, and then report him.
She did so during second hour. At 9:34 a.m., she sent an email to three school officials about the bullets and asked that they call Crumbley to the office. She also noted: “Now that he’s on my radar, I’m also noticing that some of his previous work that he’s completed from earlier in the year leans a bit toward the violent side.”
Kubina was referring to a survey that Ethan had filled out at the start of the school year in August, when he listed his favorite TV shows as “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter” — both extremely violent — and his favorite book as “Resistance — Making Bombs for Hitler” — (which she would learn after the shooting was actually a children’s book about a Jewish girl sent to a concentration camp).
Kubina explained that she alerted the front office about Crumbley “out of an abundance of caution.”
Within a half hour of Kubina emailing the front office about Crumbley’s bullet search, Pam Fine, the school’s conflict resolution specialist and anti-bullying coordinator, went to his math class and brought him to her office. There, she and Hopkins questioned Ethan.
According to Hopkins, Crumbley “was incredibly understanding of the situation” and explained that he had gone to the shooting range with his mom over the weekend, that shooting is a shared hobby they have and that he was looking at the bullets in relation to that event.
Hopkins said that he explained to Crumbley that looking at bullets in class is not appropriate, and that the student said he understood. So he was sent back to class.
Then Fine called Jennifer Crumbley and left her a friendly voicemail.
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In the one-minute, 25-second phone message, obtained by the Free Press, here is what Fine said to Jennifer Crumbley about her son on the day before the shooting:
“Hi, Ms. Crumbley. My name is Pam Fine. I’m calling from Oxford High School and I’m here with Mr. Hopkins, who is Ethan’s counselor. I was just calling to let you know that we just spoke with Ethan, had a really nice conversation. One of his teachers had sent an email to the office, said that she was concerned because Ethan — when she was walking around the room checking assignments — he was on his phone looking at bullets, and that sort of thing. So she just wanted us to have a conversation. We did.”
The message continued: “He said that he had been to the shooting range with you this weekend, and we were like, ‘Yup, guns are a hobby for a lot of people and shooting ranges. And that’s perfectly normal.’ And we just wanted to make sure that we had a conversation with him about the things he searches at school, versus searching at home. Mr. Hopkins gave a good example, of like if a teacher makes beer at home, perfectly normal and healthy, but can’t be using searches for making beer at school. So we had that conversation. He was great. He was like, ‘Yup, I get it.’ So I just wanted to let you know that we did have that conversation with him and I don’t know, about 5 minutes, and he went back to class. Alright, if you have any questions, you can give me a call (left her number) otherwise, I hope you have a great holiday. Thanks.”
Jennifer Crumbley did not call Fine back. Rather, she joked with her son about him getting caught looking at bullets in school.
“Did you at least show them a picture of your new gun?” Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, referring to the gun she and her husband had bought him as an early Christmas present that year, just four days before the shooting.
“No, I didn’t show them the pic. My god,” he texted back.
Jennifer Crumbley assured the teen he was not in trouble, texting: “LOL I’m not mad. You have to learn how to not get caught.”
Despite Ethan Crumbley’s concerning behavior, the teachers who reported it and the administrative staff who reviewed it all said they did not view him as a threat — in part due to what most described as a gun culture in Oxford.
“We are a hunting community … we have students who wear the camo and they show the pictures of the deer that they caught or the quail that they caught. We have students who on homecoming … girls — are holding a semi-automatic rifle,” Fine said during her deposition. “We are a community that has a tremendous amount of interest in gun hobbies.”
Hopkins expressed similar sentiments.
“In Oxford, looking at bullets on a phone might not be something a student thinks of as being irresponsible behavior,” Hopkins said in his deposition. “It’s a hunting community. It’s November … a lot of them are growing up in a gun culture.”
Hopkins was explaining why he thought Crumbley’s bullet search didn’t represent a threat.
The lawyer followed up with a question: “You don’t think he was planning the shooting already by then?”
Hopkins answered: “I can’t get into what I know now versus what I knew then … As painful as it is … Everybody in Oxford would wish this was different.”
At 3:15 p.m. on the day before the shooting, the English teacher sent another email to the office about something she had missed: a self-portrait that Ethan drew in August on a note card. It showed a person in glasses with a hand missing, though the outline of an erased gun was still visible where the hand should have been, she said. The person was standing next to what looked like an ammunition magazine or a building.
This was drawn on a notecard as part of a class assignment in which the teacher was trying to get to know the students better to call on them for future volunteer activities. On the back of the notecard, Ethan had answered two questions that stood out to the teacher: He stated that the last 18 months were “enjoyable” and that one of his pet peeves is “when someone doesn’t cooperate.”
The teacher took a photo of the front and back of the notecard, and forwarded it to the dean, counselor and conflict resolution specialist, stating in the email that she found his answers to the questions “odd” juxtaposed with the drawing of the gun on the front, as well as his search for bullets that day. She also stated in her deposition that most students did not describe their last 18 months as “overly enjoyable” and listed pet peeves that included “chewing gum loudly” or “walking slow in the hallway.”
By the time she had sent the second email, the school officials had already met with Crumbley about the bullet search, though the English teacher did not know the results of that meeting.
The next morning, the front office would get three more alerts about Crumbley.
At 7 a.m. on the day of the shooting, Hopkins saw the English teacher’s follow-up email about the notecard she had discovered.
At 8:05 a.m. that same day, Hopkins and Fine received another email from teacher Allison Karpinski, who alerted both that she had seen Crumbley watching a video in class that day of someone shooting people.
“It looks like a movie scene and not security footage/a real event, but definitely still concerning when taking into account some of his other behaviors,” Karpinski wrote in the email, noting she had learned of his looking at bullets the day before.
Hopkins emailed her back, “Okay, I’ll follow up.”
Then came the final warning before the bloodshed — the math teacher’s discovery of Ethan’s drawing of a gun and a person bleeding on his geometry worksheet, and an alarming message that caught her eye above everything else.
It was during Ethan’s second-hour geometry class when teacher Becky Morgan left her room and marched to the office to report the dark message she spotted on the desk of the student who sat closest to her: Ethan Crumbley.
On his practice test, Ethan had written, “The Thoughts won’t stop, help me.’
“I just like, froze,” Morgan recalled in her deposition. “It was definitely the words … When he says ‘help me,’ I don’t know what his thinking was, but clearly he needs someone to talk to.”
Morgan felt the matter was urgent, so she went to the office.
“I didn’t want him slipping through emails, so that’s why I went down to the office and reported it, I mean, to that level,” Morgan said in her deposition, noting that in her 22 years of teaching she had never seen a student draw or write what Crumbley did.
After seeing the drawing, Morgan said she told Crumbley, “I think you need to start being on task,” though she didn’t mention what she had seen.
Instead, she took a photo of the worksheet and took it to the front office, where she delivered it to Ejak, the dean of students.
Morgan then went back to her classroom, crouched down next to Crumbly and said: “Is there something I can do to help you?”
He responded: “Well, I just don’t like working in groups.”
But as he gave excuses to his teacher about why he wasn’t doing his work, Hopkins — the counselor with whom he had met a day earlier over the bullets — walked in and took him to the office.
In that meeting, Crumbley explained that the images on his math worksheet were part of a video game he was drawing, and reflected his interest in wanting to become a graphic designer and video game designer after college.
Hopkins said that Ethan’s demeanor started to change when he described the messages he wrote. He expressed sadness over having lost a grandparent, his dog, and his closest friend moving away.
“I asked him, ‘Are you a threat to yourself or others?’” Hopkins recalled in his deposition.
Ethan responded: “I can see why this looks bad. I’m not going to do anything.”
Still, his parents were summoned.
At 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 30, 2021, the Crumbleys arrived at the school.
In his deposition, Hopkins said he noticed no affection between the son and parents — no hugs, no touching — though he noted that Ethan’s father looked at him and said: “‘You know, we, you — we’ve talked — you can talk to your counselor. You’ve got a journal’ … and just said things … that felt that he cared.”
Hopkins said he gave the parents a packet of mental health services to look over, and recommended that Ethan be seen “as soon as possible, today if possible.”
But Jennifer Crumbley said that the couple had to get back to work, that they couldn’t do it right away, and asked if it were possible for Ethan to stay in school.
Hopkins sent Ethan back to class, told the parents to have him seen within 48 hours and said that he would follow up.
“Were they neglectful?” a lawyer asked Hopkins in his deposition.
“I did not have a reason to believe that at that point, no,” Hopkins answered. “Like I said … while they couldn’t do it that day, they weren’t not going to do it.”
Ejak, the dean, also heard Ethan’s explanation of the violent drawing and his troubling messages.
“I listened to Ethan explain some of these statements, and even thank us for being so thorough because he realized how bad this looked,” Ejak, the dean, said in his deposition. “At no point in time was I aware that there could be a threat. I don’t think there was any reason to believe that. What he had to say … made perfect sense.”
But Ethan, it turned out, sought to hoodwink the school officials and his parents.
When his math teacher left him in class with his drawing, he had tweaked the document — which he brought to the counselor’s office — by crossing out the the shooting victim, gun and bullet he had drawn. He had also crossed out the words “blood everywhere,” “help me” and “my life is useless” and added a crying-laughing emoji, along with the words: “video game this is,” “we’re all friends here,” “harmless act,” “I love my life so much!!!!” and “OHS rocks!”
Ejak wasn’t concerned about the edits, saying: “Students often to try to cover up stuff so they don’t get into trouble.”
While Crumbley was waiting for his parents to arrive at the school, he became worried that he would miss his third-hour chemistry class and asked for his homework, his counselor said. So Ejak went back to Crumbley’s math class to retrieve his backpack. He said the math teacher handed it to him, and that he joked about how easily the teacher lifted it, but his arm “dropped a little because of the weight.”
Ejak also noted to Ethan how heavy his backpack was when he handed it to him, with Ethan explaining his laptop was inside.
Johnson grilled Ejak about the backpack, asking him “what would it take to search it,” and about why he believed Ethan’s story about his drawing being a video game.
“That was all a lie, you know that now, right?” Johnson said.
“Not necessarily,” Ejak answered.
“You thought that he just shot up the school less than two hours later, and this is just a big coincidence now. Seriously?” Johnson said. “Looking back on it, don’t you think it showed a pattern of what he was going to do?”
Ejak responded: “No, I don’t.”
At 12:51 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2021, just two hours after convincing school officials he was only drawing a video game, was interested in graphic design and was no threat to himself or others, Ethan emerged from a bathroom and opened fire.
Tresa Baldas is an award-winning courts and legal issues reporter and was named the 2020 Richard Milliman “Michigan” Journalist of the Year by the Michigan Press Association. Contact her at [email protected]


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