Ethan Bakuli and Lori Higgins, Chalkbeat Detroit
Four students have died after a shooting Tuesday afternoon at Oxford High School in metro Detroit. Ethan Crumbley, a 15-year-old student who was armed with a semi-automatic weapon, is in custody and now faces adult charges that include terrorism, first-degree murder, and intent to murder.
Although the circumstances surrounding the shooting are unclear, in recent weeks students, staff, and parents across the nation have been feeling considerable pressure during a difficult school year.
Oxford is about 45 miles north of Detroit. The shooting is the 23rd incident involving gunfire on Michigan K-12 and college school grounds since 2013, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control advocacy group.
Nationwide, there have been 28 shootings this year, according to the publication Education Week. Twenty of them have occurred since August.
Shootings involving students — including incidents on campuses and off — have shaken school communities and in some cases prompted action. In Chicago, two students from one high school were killed in separate off-campus shootings in September. A teenage girl and a security guard were wounded by gunfire on the steps of another Chicago school a month later.
A Memphis student was hospitalized and another student was arrested after a school shooting, prompting the superintendent to plead for help from the community. Students in Aurora, Colorado, were injured in two separate shootings this month on or near school property, leading to impassioned pleas from school leaders and the deployment of crisis teams.
Here’s what we know about the Oxford shooting, based on news reports and police statements:
‘Mountain of digital evidence’ suspect planned shooting
The suspected shooter was identified in a news conference Wednesday afternoon as 15-year-old Oxford High School sophomore Ethan Crumbley.
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald is charging Crumbley with one count of terrorism, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
“We have watched school shootings unfold in this country for far too long,” she said. “Sadly, the national spotlight is shining today on our community.”
McDonald stated that there was a “mountain of digital evidence” suggesting the shooting was planned in advance, and that more charges are potentially forthcoming against Crumbley or his parents.
“We have to do better,” McDonald added, in a plea toward gun control legislation. “How many times does this have to happen? We have become desensitized by school shootings.”
Students remain in critical condition
Three students were killed in the shooting on Tuesday, police said, and a fourth died on Wednesday. Seven more people were injured, including a teacher. Six of the seven injured are students.
The students who were killed included Tate Myre, 16, Hana St. Juliana, 14, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Justin Shilling, 17, according to media reports. When police arrived at the school, a deputy loaded Myre, an Oxford High football player, in his car to take him to the hospital because of his severe injuries, “but sadly that child died in the car,” Sheriff Michael Bouchard said during a late evening news conference.
At the time of that news briefing, a 15-year-old boy was in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head, a 17-year-old girl was in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the chest, and a 14-year-old girl was in critical condition with gunshot wounds to the neck and chest.
The 14-year-old girl “is currently on a ventilator,” Bouchard said. “It’s looking very tough for this young girl.”
Bouchard said there were multiple other injuries as students and staff tried to escape the school.
Suspect’s father purchased weapon on Friday
Police said Crumbley was taken into custody without injury. He is being housed at Children’s Village, Oakland County’s juvenile detention center. Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter said Tuesday night that the teen is on suicide watch and in isolation.
Bouchard said the gun the suspect used in the shooting was purchased four days ago by his father. Bouchard confirmed reports of social media posts by the suspect showing him target shooting with the gun. He said the suspect’s parents have hired an attorney and are not allowing deputies to talk to the teen. A motive for the shooting is unknown, though some news reports said he may have been bullied. Bouchard said a search warrant has been executed on the suspect’s home and among the items seized was the teen’s phone.
He said the suspect cannot be identified by authorities because he’s a juvenile and hasn’t been charged as an adult. Prosecutors, he said, will decide how the suspect is charged.
About 15 to 20 shots were fired and about 100 calls were placed to 911, Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe said during an earlier news conference. The shooter, he said, appears to have acted alone.
“There were no other guns, no other shooters,” McCabe added, “as far as we know.”
Bouchard said deputies who rushed into the school and toward the shots encountered the suspect in a hallway.
“As they were coming down the hall, they saw him. He put his hands up. They took the gun and took him into custody,” Bouchard said.
How to report warning signs and rumors
Bouchard stressed Tuesday night that if parents or students hear or see something concerning, they should report it. The state has a hotline, called OK2Say, that allows students to make anonymous tips. Bouchard said there are other avenues, such as calling the sheriff’s office at 248-858-4911 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, to report a threat.
“We need to know what you see and hear in case there is some credible information. Just in this past week, we’ve intervened in three different events. They were deemed to not be credible. [But] that’s not a burden to us. It’s something we want you to do.”
Oxford High School parent Robin Redding told the Associated Press that her son, a senior, alerted her to threats he overheard ahead of the Tuesday shooting.
“This couldn’t be just random,” she said. Redding let her son stay home on Tuesday, but didn’t provide specifics about what her son had heard.
Bouchard said the sheriff’s department had not received any reports of threats at Oxford High.
“We’re hearing there were rumors. None of that came to us prior to today. If we find out there was info, that’s exactly the kind of thing we need to get and get looped into,” Bouchard said.
Deputies saved lives, sheriff says
Bouchard said extensive training over the years meant first responders and school staff were well-prepared for what to do in the case of an active shooter. He said law enforcement officers saved lives.
He referred to the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where deputies were criticized for not entering the school building where a former student went on a shooting rampage and killed 17 people.
At the time, Bouchard said he made it clear to his staff that “if they get there first, their job is to neutralize. There will be no staging. I’m proud to say that’s exactly what happened today. They went in and searched out the threats. They went towards the gunshots.”
He said that if the district training on what to do in an active shooter situation was critically important.
“Tragically we’ve lost lives and we’ve had people seriously hurt,” Bouchard said. But, it’s possible that without the training and the quick response to lock down the building and classrooms, it could have been “a worse situation.”
School district leader responds
Tim Throne, Superintendent of Oxford Community Schools, expressed shock over the shooting and asked for the public to “pray for our families” as students, staff, and community members continued to process the day’s events.
State education leader: Support mental health efforts
“This shooting underscores the need to focus on supporting our children’s mental health needs during devastating times like these,” State Superintendent Michael Rice said in a statement.
“Oxford High School students and staff will need a lot more care and support in the coming months. State and federal funds have been allocated this past year for districts to help address social and emotional needs, especially during such emergencies. I am confident that Superintendent Throne and the other leaders of Oxford Community Schools will do what needs to be done to quickly and gently tend to their students and the school community to work through this tragedy.”
Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, and Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, also pushed for attention to mental health support in this joint statement:
“Addressing the mental health needs of our students and the physical safety of everyone in our schools is not a partisan issue and must be something we work together to achieve. Each of today’s victims – and every student, parent, educator, and first responder – deserves that commitment from us all.”
Governor Whitmer and President Biden react
A visibly emotional Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, during a late afternoon press conference, became tearful answering a question from a reporter.
“This is every parent’s worst nightmare,” said Whitmer, who has two daughters.
In a statement released earlier in the day, Whitmer said her “heart breaks for the students, teachers, staff, and families of Oxford High School.
“The death of multiple students and the shooting of many others, including a teacher, is horrific. I want to thank the first responders on the ground working hard to keep people safe as law enforcement officials investigate this shooting and get the community the help it needs right now.”
Whitmer said Michigan residents have a responsibility to protect each other from gun violence.
“No one should be afraid to go to school, work, a house of worship, or even their own home. Gun violence is a public health crisis that claims lives every day. We have the tools to reduce gun violence in Michigan. This is a time for us to come together and help our children feel safe at school.”
Whitmer ordered state the U.S. flags lowered until further notice “to honor and remember the victims of the shooting at Oxford High School,” according to a statement from her office.
President Joe Biden, before making remarks at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, said he also was heartbroken.
“My heart goes out to the families during an unimaginable grief of losing a loved one,” Biden said.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.
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