Pontiac, Michigan (CNN) — Ethan Crumbley recorded audio saying, “I am going to be the next school shooter,” the night before killing four students and wounding seven others in a mass shooting at Michigan’s Oxford High School in 2021.
Prosecutors played the audio of two video clips Thursday during a hearing to determine whether he should spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“My name is Ethan Crumbley, age 15, and I am going to be the next school shooter,” he is heard saying on the audio played in court. “I’ve thought about this a lot. I can’t stop thinking about it. But it’s constantly in my head.”
Crumbley appeared to look down at the defense table as the audio was played.
In the second audio file played at the hearing Crumbley said, “I’m gonna have so much fun tomorrow.”
In the recordings, Crumbley talks about the decline of his life, his hate for the world and the need to teach others “a lesson” by shooting up a school.
“I will walk behind someone, and I will shoot a bullet into their skull. And that’s the first victim,” he said. “I’m gonna open fire on everyone in the hallway … I will try to hit as many people as I can. I will reload, and I will find people hiding. I want to teach them a lesson of how they are wrong, of how they are being brainwashed.”
The number of officers in the courtroom increased as the hearing progressed.
Earlier Thursday, Crumbley’s journal entries were read in court.
Crumbley’s premeditation ahead of the shooting and propensity for violence are among the reasons he should receive a life sentence, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said in her opening statement.
Crumbley’s attorney, Paulette Loftin, said the defense will show Crumbley is not “irreparably corrupt” and should be sentenced to a term of years in prison.
The first prosecution witness, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Timothy Willis, who oversaw the shooting investigation, testified Thursday that Crumbley bypassed device security and accessed a violent website on a jail computer tablet in January.
When authorities discovered the search history, which Crumbley had attempted to delete from the device, the teen said he could not “resist” visiting the site he’d frequented before the shooting, according to the lieutenant.
Prosecutor Marc Keast went over a handwritten journal with Willis that was recovered from Crumbley’s backpack in a school bathroom after the shooting, highlighting excerpts about his plans written weeks and months before the carnage.
Crumbley successfully executed many of the plans he outlined in the journal, Keast told the court.
One entry said: “I want to shoot up the school so f**king badly.”
“The first victim has to be a pretty girl with a future so she can suffer just like me,” Crumbley wrote in another.
The first shooting victim was a female student, Phoebe Arthur, the lieutenant confirmed.
“I will continue shooting people until police breach the building,” Crumbley wrote. “I will then surrender to them and plead guilty to life in prison.”
Crumbley pleaded guilty in October to one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder and 19 other charges stemming from the mass shooting he carried out at his high school when he was 15 years old.
In the week before he killed his schoolmates, Crumbley Googled a series of questions about the death penalty and prison sentences for 15-year-olds in Michigan.
And the night before the shooting, Crumbley Googled “What is worst prison sentence you can get in Michigan,” according to the lieutenant.
Willis also described an extensive series of journal entries and text messages with an unidentified friend discussing in graphic terms how Crumbley tortured and killed baby birds.
Willis testified about a video in which Crumbley could be seen torturing a hatchling to death. The video was not played in court. Willis described the joy the teen shooter appeared to feel while torturing the bird.
Crumbley later wrote in text messages to a friend how he enjoyed the torture and that he continued to feel the urge to kill.
Willis grew emotional at several points during testimony about the day of the shooting. He choked up and paused at times as he listed the names of the dead and wounded.
Defense focused on Crumbley’s life at home
During Willis’ roughly three hours on the stand, Loftin read more of the shooter’s journal entries in which he wrote about wanting help to stop his negative feelings.
“All one of my teachers has to do is send me to the office and I will tell them about the bird head and I can get help,” Crumbley wrote.
“One call and that can save a lot of lives. My evil has fully taken over in me and I used to like it, but now I don’t want to be evil. I want help but my parents don’t listen to me so I can’t get any help. I feel like I’m in a tiny loop of sadness.”
The defense attorney also asked Willis about the criminal investigation into Crumbley’s parents, seeking to highlight the young man’s challenging home life.
Loftin went over law enforcement interviews with neighbors who said they often heard his parents yelling and saw Ethan crying. She also focused on the neglectful parenting Crumbley endured before and after the shooting.
In one journal entry, Crumbley wrote about not having food because of his parents’ financial struggles.
“This morning, I woke up to my mom having one of her worst rants about how we have no money and can’t pay the bills. This just furthers my desire to shoot up the school or do something else. I have no happiness or optimism left in me as I am a burden to my parents,” Crumbley wrote.
Earlier Thursday, prosecutors played surveillance video of the shooting with no audio. Several family members tearfully watched the video.
Another prosecution witness, Robert Koteles, a forensic laboratory investigator for the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, testified that Crumbley fired a 9 mm pistol 32 times during the slaughter.
Shooting victim’s tense exchange with defense attorney
On Thursday afternoon, Molly Darnell, who at the time was an educator at the school, testified that she locked eyes with Crumbley through a glass window before he raised and pointed his pistol at her.
Darnell said she was attempting to put on a safety mechanism to lock down a door when she suddenly jumped to the right. A bullet pierced and passed through her left arm. She realized months later the bullet likely would’ve struck her heart had she not reacted.
Darnell testified that she fashioned a tourniquet from her cardigan and barricaded herself in an office until law enforcement arrived.
Darnell texted her husband, “I love you. Active shooter,” she testified.
She no longer works at Oxford High School. She’d wanted to stay on the job but it was too difficult, she testified through tears.
Defense attorney Amy Hopp cross-examined Darnell, asking how she’d handle a troubled student like Crumbley and whether she’d report his home life if she had been his teacher.
McDonald, the prosecutor, repeatedly objected, arguing that it was an inappropriate question to a shooting victim and bordered on harassment.
In a tense exchange, Darnell said she never knew Crumbley before she saw him point a gun at her.
“Do you know how hard it is to heal from something like this? I avoid everything I can to heal. This isn’t – learning about what happened – is not part of my healing process,” she said on the stand.
Prosecution argues for sentence of life without parole
As an adult, Crumbley would be sentenced to life in prison without parole, the harshest punishment under Michigan law. Because he’s a minor, the court needs to hold a hearing to consider whether he should have a chance for eventual release.
The so-called Miller hearing is named after a US Supreme Court case, Miller v. Alabama, which struck down mandatory life without parole sentences for minors. The hearing is scheduled for Thursday and Friday and could extend into next week.
Prosecutors argue that Crumbley deserves a life sentence without parole. Crumbley’s lawyers will present mitigating factors, including his age, home life and the possibility that he can be rehabilitated, to argue that life without parole is disproportionate.
Last week, Crumbley’s lawyers asked the judge to take the possibility of life without parole off the table before the Miller hearing. Judge Kwame Rowe denied the request, along with their requests to limit witnesses and allow Crumbley to wear street clothes during the hearing.
The hearing resumes Friday morning.
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