Oxford High School Shooting

December 7, 2021 Criminal Defense, Violent Crimes

It is another somber day in America after hearing about the latest school shooting. With the ongoing pandemic looming over our heads, it feels like a low blow to be hit with such a tragic event.

On Tuesday, November 30th, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley brought a gun to Oxford High school campus near Detroit, Michigan. He stepped out from one of the campus bathrooms and opened fire into a hallway. Three students initially died, and several more were left seriously injured. A fourth student was pronounced dead a day later, after fighting for his life in the hospital.

More information is being released about the case. Investigators have come forward with information about Ethan Crumbley and his parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley. Ethan’s father had just purchased the gun Ethan used from a Black Friday sale. His mother Jennifer had posted on social media that they were practicing shooting with their son with the “early Christmas gift.”

It is also shocking to hear that one of Ethan’s teachers found a suspicious drawing on his desk the day of the incident, and Ethan’s parents were called onto campus to address it. Unfortunately, the intervention did nothing to stop the school shooting that occurred later in the afternoon. After such a terrifying event, it is important to go over all the details leading up to it and occurring the day of. Who is at fault here, and could it have been prevented? More importantly, what does this say about the current situation on gun violence on school grounds?

What Happened?

At 12:52 pm the Oakland County police received a phone call that is everyone’s worst nightmare—there was an active shooter on the Oxford High School campus. The 15-year-old gunman left the bathroom and opened fire into the busy school hallway. The police were on the scene within minutes, and it took them only 3 minutes to apprehend Ethan. It was unfortunately still enough time to cause serious harm. Four students died from the shooting, and several other students have been left in the hospital, ranging from stable to in critical condition. When the police arrested the suspect, there were still seven rounds in his gun.

The first three victims include 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin, and 16-year-old Tate Myre. The two girls were shot and killed on sight. 16-year-old Myre was shot and died in the back of a police car on the way to the hospital. The third victim is 17-year-old Justin Shilling, who died a day later in the hospital. Seven other victims were seriously wounded and taken to the hospital. One of the victims includes an Oxford High teacher.

Since being placed in custody, Ethan Crumbley has refused to speak to the authorities about his motives. Under Michigan law, the police need permission from parents to speak to a minor. Neither James nor Jennifer Crumbley has given any permission for the police to speak to Ethan, so he remains silent for now.

The following is a timeline to show the events leading to the school shooting:

  • Friday, November 26th:
    • Ethan’s father James Crumbley purchased a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol from a shooting goods store on Black Friday. The store employee confirms that Ethan was present when James bought the gun.
    • Later that day Ethan posted a photo on social media with the caption, “Just got my new baby today. SIG SAUER 9mm,” the post ended with a heart emoji.
  • Monday, November 29th:
    • The day before the shooting, a teacher from Oxford High spotted Ethan on his phone during class. Upon inspection, the teacher found that Ethan had been researching ammunition on his phone.
    • The staff member reported the incident to the school officials, who sent an email and a voicemail to Ethan’s parents. There was no response.
    • Text messages between Ethan and his mom Jennifer reveal a message saying, “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”
  • Tuesday, November 30th:
    • At the beginning of the school day, a teacher found an explicit drawing on Ethan’s desk. It included several violent images of a gun, a bullet, someone bleeding, and several notes saying, “blood everywhere” and “the thoughts won’t stop, help me.” There was also the note, “My life is useless.”
    • The teacher reported the drawing to school officials, who brought James and Jennifer Crumbley onto campus. They ordered the parents to take Ethan to see a counselor within 48 hours, but they resisted taking Ethan off campus, and he was able to return to the classroom.
    • School surveillance cameras show Ethan exiting the bathroom with a gun in his hand and began firing at a “methodical pace.”
    • At 1:22 pm his mother texted him, “Ethan, don’t do it.”
    • At 1:37 pm, his father called the police to say his gun was missing, and he believed his son was the school shooter.
    • Police received over 100 phone calls about the active shooter and were able to detain Ethan within 5 minutes of arriving at the scene after 3 students were killed and several more were rushed to the hospital.
    • Ethan Crumbley is taken into custody but refuses to speak to the police about his motives.
    • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a news conference, calling the day’s incident, “every parent’s worst nightmare.”
  • Wednesday, December 1st:
    • A fourth victim from the school shooting dies while in the hospital.
    • The suspect’s identity was announced in the news as 15-year-old sophomore Ethan Crumbley. It was announced that after a “mountain of evidence,” Ethan would be charged as an adult with first-degree murder, terrorism, and gun-related crimes.
  • Friday, December 3rd:
    • The prosecution announces that Ethan’s parents will also be held accountable for the school shooting, announcing that they will both be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
    • James and Jennifer Crumbley don’t show up to their arraignment Friday afternoon and are reported missing.
    • Deputies put out a $10,000 reward for any information regarding the Crumbley parents’ whereabouts. Police could not trace them due to their phones being shut off.
    • The Crumbley couple and their vehicle are found outside of their hometown in an industrial building. They had taken out $4,000 of a nearby ATM. Their attorney claims they were leaving town for their own safety, not to avoid the authorities.

What Were the Responses?

Sheriff Michael Bouchard gave a press conference regarding the event. He stressed the importance of sharing information—either directly or anonymously. There was supposedly some talk of knowledge of the event before it happened, but Oakland police state they had no idea.

President Biden gave a statement on the incident: “As we learn the full details, my heart goes out to the families enduring the unimaginable grief of losing a loved one.” It is important to note this is now the 28th school shooting to happen in the nation this year.

The Governor of Michigan Gretchen Whitmer appeared at a news conference to thank the first responders who showed up so quickly to the scene. “My heart goes out to the families. This is an unimaginable tragedy,” was her statement. She went on to discuss the topic of gun violence: “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.”

Charged as an Adult?

When the shooting was first publicized, the name of the shooter was kept confidential, due to strict laws that protect minors who have committed a crime. Under most U.S. laws, the information of a juvenile charged with a crime must remain confidential. The exception to this is if the juvenile suspect is charged as an adult for more serious crimes. In this case, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley has had his name broadcasted after being charged as an adult.

On December 1, prosecutors decided to charge Crumbley as an adult. He is currently facing charges of terrorism, first-degree murder, and gun-related charges. Prosecutor Karen McDonald said there is a “mountain of digital evidence” showing that Crumbley planned the school shooting well before the incident happened. “This isn’t even a close call, this was not an impulsive act,” McDonald said. There is a combination of social media posts, videotapes, and other digital evidence to help prove that the shooting was premeditated.

“Just got my new beauty today” was the caption after receiving a new gun his father bought him from a Black Friday sale. Before the post, his mother Jennifer Crumbley posted that they were testing out his new Christmas present.

The charge of terrorism is not one that has been seen very often with school shootings before. When questioned about the choice of a terrorism charge, prosecutor McDonald responded:

“What about all the other children who ran, screaming, hiding under desks? What about all the children at home right now who can’t eat and can’t sleep and can’t imagine a world where they can ever step foot back in that school? They are victims, too, and so are their families, and so is the community. And the change of terrorism reflects that.”

Where do the Parents Fit in?

A teacher had found Ethan researching ammunition on his phone during class the day before the incident, but when the school reached out to his parents there was no reply. Messages were found on Ethan’s phone from his mother with a text that read, “LOL I’m not mad at you, you have to learn not to get caught.”

On the morning of the school shooting, Ethan’s teacher found a drawing on his desk. It was extremely disturbing to the point where the teacher took a picture of it and notified school officials. On the paper was a drawing of a semi-automatic handgun, a bullet, and a person bleeding. There were several hand-written notes on the drawing, including: “The thoughts won’t stop, help me,” “My life is useless,” and “The world is dead.” At the bottom of the page was the drawing of a laughing emoji.

Both James and Jennifer Crumbley were called to the school immediately after the teacher reported the picture. By the time everyone was in the office, Ethan had altered the images to scratch out the most drastic parts. The parents were told they needed to get Ethan into a therapist’s office within 48 hours – but instead of taking him home or checking his belongings to see if he had brought his gun to school, James and Jennifer Crumbley left campus without their son. Ethan remained on campus and was able to return to class. 

When word got out that there was an active shooter on campus, Jennifer Crumbley had texted her son at 1:22 pm stating, “Ethan, don’t do it.” At 1:37 pm James Crumbley called 911 and said a gun was missing from his house, and that he believed his son was the active shooter. It turns out the gun was stored unlocked in a drawer in the Crumbley household. The gun recovered after the shooting was the same gun purchased by James Crumbley. The prosecution has released a charging document that states that four counts of involuntary manslaughter have been charged to both James and Jennifer Crumbley.

On Friday, December 3, just hours after the prosecutor announced the involuntary manslaughter charges for James and Jennifer, both parents were reported missing. Their arraignment was scheduled for late Friday afternoon, but officials could no longer track their phones after they had been turned off. Their attorney said they left for their own safety, but it seemed suspicious once it was revealed they had taken out $4,000 from a nearby ATM. U.S. Marshalls announced a $10,000 reward for any information regarding the parents’ whereabouts.

Authorities were able to find the parents and the vehicle that was reported missing. They were located on the first floor of an industrial building after their vehicle had been spotted.

Gun Violence in Schools: A Never-Ending Issue?

It seems the entire community in Michigan is applauding the Oakland County Sheriff’s office for their quick apprehension of the school shooter. In an interview with a local news station, Sheriff Michael Bouchard explains that his team has been studying world events to prepare for horrific situations like this particular one. He explains that they “hope and pray” that it never happens to them but need to have the preparation regardless.

It raises the question—is preparation really the answer? Over the last few years, the United States has seen a terrifying rise in school shootings. USA Today reports that the Oxford High shooting is the 28th of 29 school shootings to occur in 2021. Although the COVID-19 pandemic put a brief pause on school shootings due to at-home schooling, it appears gun violence in schools has become its own pandemic. Of the 29 school shootings, 21 of them have occurred since August, when students returned to the classroom full time.

In addition, the Gun Violence Archives is a site that keeps track of the data revolving all gun violence per year. Since 2014, gun violence continues to raise at scary rates. Just this year alone there have been 653 recorded mass shootings. The website shows the areas of the United States where most gun-related crimes occur and breaks down the statistics of children and teens injured or killed by gun violence.

Although it is helpful to keep track of this data, to what end? Police officers can prepare for active school shooters, and schools can implement school shooting practices for students and teachers, but is that really the best answer? It is important to question the current state of gun violence in America. The Columbine shooting happened 22 years ago, and as horrific of a situation that was, it feels like the U.S. is still in the same situation as back then when it comes to gun violence. Instead of applauding the police for showing up within 5 minutes of an active shooter call, it could be more beneficial to figure out a way to ensure a 15-year-old can’t have access to a loaded gun, or that students can attend school safely without worrying if this might be the day that they have to hide from a fellow student with a gun.

This article was written by Karissa Key

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