The mother of convicted school shooter Ethan Crumbley – who is on trial for failing to stop her son from carrying out the attack – choked up with emotion as she took the stand and said she wished her son had killed her instead.
Their trials are historic, as no parents have ever been charged or tried for their alleged role in a mass school shooting.
The 45-year-old took the stand after the jury has heard from numerous prosecution witnesses, including school officials, over the past two weeks. Prosecutors are arguing that Ms Crumbley ignored her son’s “downward spiral” and gave him access to a gun, while the defence has described Ms Crumbley as a “hypervigilant” mother and said that her son’s declining mental health was “not on her radar”.
Ms Crumbley was mostly unemotional while taking the stand — except for when discussing her son or the shooting that he committed.
“That was the hardest thing I had to stomach – that my child harmed and killed other people,” Ms Crumbley said, stumbling over the last few words and uttering them quietly.
Although she spent most of her time on the stand on Thursday making direct eye contact either with her attorney or the jury box, when she mentioned her son’s shooting, she looked down, avoiding eye contact with anyone.
When asked if she could change what had happened if she could, Ms Crumbley said, “Oh absolutely. I wish he would’ve killed us instead.”
Earlier in the day, Ms Crumbley was asked to walk through photos that were posted on her social media pages. While looking at photos of her son – including one of him holding his pet chinchilla – she began choking up.
She began her testimony by saying that public speaking was “probably my greatest fear” so she was “very nervous.” Her attorney even noted that she looked increasingly red while talking on the stand and asked her if she was okay. She dismissed it as usual behaviour and said that she often gets hives when she’s nervous.
She also told the court that she tends to “hold things in” and to express emotions out when she’s alone.
Ms Crumbley told the court that Ethan enjoyed a “lot of different interests,” including bowling, soccer, metal detecting, BB guns and target practice, video games, and coin collecting.
She said she and her son skied together.
“It was normal. Normal family stuff,” she said, describing hosting family Thanksgivings and Easter celebrations.
When asked about Ethan’s school performance, she said that “he did good if he applied himself.”
Ms Crumbley said “he was about average” in school and had “up and down grades” but that she often “battled” him over his missing assignments.
While it was a “regular thing” to hear from teachers about missing assignments, she testified that she never heard from the school about any disciplinary issues.
Defence attorney Shannon Smith asked about the fire department captain Brian Meloche, whom Ms Crumbley had an affair with. Mr Meloche testified earlier in the day.
Ms Crumbley said she had known Mr Meloche since high school and that he was a “member of the horse community”.
She estimated that she saw Mr Meloche once a week for six months, with their affair beginning in the spring of 2021.
They often met when he was coming back from the firehouse in the mornings, she said.
Ms Crumbley said the affair didn’t impact her ability to care for Ethan.
She also offered conflicting testimony to Mr Meloche. Earlier on Thursday, the firefighter testified that Ms Crumbley told him that the 9mm gun was in her car on the day of the shooting; Ms Crumbley said that wasn’t accurate and he “must’ve been confused”.
Ms Crumbley also explained her son had two bedrooms, having moved out of his bedroom and into a guest bedroom because she “didn’t want to clean his room anymore” because it was so messy.
Her attorney also brought up text messages between her and her husband which focused a lot on horses.
Ms Crumbley admitted that she talked “a lot more about the horses” than her son in these text exchanges because Mr Crumbley didn’t know horses like she did – so she would explain to her husband how to take care of them while she was at work.
“Horses can’t talk,” she said, but she could talk to her son after school.
The 45-year-old was also asked about her former job. She testified that she had worked as a marketing director at a real estate acquisition company for five years, a job that she said she cared about “a lot”.
Her husband had a tough time finding a job, so she said she would send him job openings.
She said she and her husband haven’t spoken since they were arrested more than two years ago.
Throughout the trial, the defence has maintained that Ms Crumbley didn’t know much about guns whereas her husband had a love of firearms.
When asked about guns, Ms Crumbley testified that she “didn’t really feel comfortable” being in charge of guns, so her husband took on that role.
She said that Mr Crumbley had two guns, which were stored in a gun safe, before buying the gun for their son. The 9mm gun was in its case and had a cable lock — its key was stored on one of her German beer steins in the kitchen, she said, but she didn’t know which one it was in. She added that she’s a collector of German beer steins.
Ethan wasn’t allowed to take out the gun unless her husband was around, she testified. She didn’t know if her son knew which beer stein the key was stored in.
When Ms Crumbley and Ethan went to the shooting range, she said that her husband had gotten the gun ready for her by removing the cable lock and putting it in the car.
Ms Crumbley also testified about a voicemail left for her by the school counsellor saying that her son was looking up bullets in class.
She said the message ended on an “upbeat” note, saying that her son went back to class and he understood what he did wrong – so she didn’t call the counsellor back. She said she and her 15-year-old discussed it when he got home from school.
The court was shown emails between Oxford High School staff. Despite communicating among one another, Ms Crumbley testified that she was unaware of these concerns. She said the first time she had seen these exchanges was during the course of this case.
Ms Crumbley was also asked about her son’s mental state. In the spring of 2021, Ms Crumbley said he was being “quieter than normal,” but that he’s normally a “quiet kid”.
She said he was “stressed out” because he was falling behind in school while he and his family were in Florida for two weeks after his grandmother passed away.
She described his quietness as a “phase” and said she didn’t think he needed to seek professional help.
In her videotaped interview with police, Ms Crumbley said Ethan texted her at 12.21pm on the day of the mass shooting and told her that he loved her.
On the stand on Thursday, she said that it was abnormal for him to randomly text her saying “I love you”.
She said her husband then called her and said the gun was missing and that there was an active shooter. She thought maybe Ethan had walked home and gotten the gun.
Ms Crumbley texted him, “Ethan, don’t do it,” after she heard the news, thinking that he was going to kill himself, she said with a quivering voice. She added that she didn’t think he had shot anyone.
Ms Crumbley said she was in a haze going to the substation to see her son: “I couldn’t believe he had actually shot anybody in the school.” She said the whole situation felt “surreal.”
Choking up, she testified that at the time, she didn’t think there would be any fatalities, and thought “we can handle injuries.”
Ms Crumbley said her Facebook Messenger, her email, and her old Realtor.com profile were “blowing up with threats” after the shooting. She testified that, after receiving those threats, she felt “scared someone might hurt us,” explaining that she and James decided to stay at a hotel for the night. She added that pizza boxes were sent to her house and the media surrounded it.
Ms Crumbley said she then withdrew money so that the bank wouldn’t freeze her account and so that she could use the money to retain an attorney. The pair then checked into a hotel again for two nights.
When asked if she knew when charges were going to be announced against her and her husband in connection to the shooting, Ms Crumbley said she didn’t know but was following the news.
She said her artist friend reached out to check in to see how they were doing on 2 December 2021. He visited the couple at the hotel and then said they could stay at his studio.
The Crumbleys were accused of not complying with the DA’s requests to turn themselves in on 3 December.
Instead, they stayed at the friend’s artist studio, where they were apprehended at 1.30am the next morning.
Her defence attorney asked if she thought she could have gone to court that night.
Ms Crumbley responded that “I was not aware that we could go to court that afternoon. I was just waiting for direction from you [as] to what we were going to do” about turning ourselves in.
Ms Crumbley said that she recalled officers surrounding the mattress on the floor with guns pointed at them.
“I don’t think I’m a failure as a parent,” she said, but added that, at that time, she felt like she had failed her son.
When asked whether she thought her son was a danger to others, she said: “As a parent you spend your whole life trying to protect your child from other dangers.
“You never would think you’d have to protect your child from harming somebody else.”
When asked if she considered herself a victim, Ms Crumbley said no because she didn’t want to “disrespect those families that truly are the victims”. She then added: “We did lose a lot.”