Revelations about suspect Ethan Crumbley’s menacing social media posts, confessional videos and ‘disturbing’ classroom behaviour have sparked a debate over whether more could have been done to prevent the deadly shooting at Oxford High School. Megan Sheets writes
As the tight-knit community of Oxford Township, Michigan, struggles to pick up the pieces from a deadly high school shooting, revelations about multiple red flags from the days prior are fuelling an impossible question: why wasn’t something done to prevent this?
The 15-year-old sophomore is facing 24 charges including one count of terrorism and four counts of first-degree murder, which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Investigators reportedly uncovered a “mountain of evidence” showing Mr Crumbley allegedly plotted his attack well in advance, outlining plans in a journal and sharing his intentions in two videos filmed before the shooting.
His social media accounts were allegedly studded with menacing posts, including a photo of the handgun he used in his rampage and an apparent countdown warning: “Now I become death – destroyer of worlds – see you tomorrow Oxford.”
Teachers at Oxford High School raised concerns about the teen’s behaviour twice in the days leading up to the shooting, authorities say. The second time took place on the morning of the shooting, when Mr Crumbley’s parents met with him and administrators at the school.
Details about the behaviour that prompted those concerns remain unclear, but they were serious enough for Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald to question why Mr Crumbley was allowed to return to class after the meeting.
Students and parents described a sense of unease on the campus in the weeks prior, saying that threats of a violence had been circulating for some time. The school acknowledged the rumours in a letter to parents in mid-November.
When pieced together, these details paint a picture that casts doubt on claims by school administrators and law enforcement that they had no prior knowledge of what would come to take place on Tuesday.
‘Desire to kill’
Gunshots rang out in the halls of Oxford High School just before 1pm, sending students scrambling for cover as they’d been taught in routine active shooter drills.
Surveillance video purportedly showed Mr Crumbley emerging from a bathroom with a 9mm Sig Sauer SP2022 semi-automatic handgun. Prosecutors said he fired the gun “methodically” but appeared to be targeting people at random.
Officers from more than 60 law enforcement agencies in the area responded to the scene and took Mr Crumbley into custody within five minutes of the first shots.
In those five minutes, Mr Crumbley fired at least 30 rounds, police said. There were still 18 rounds in his gun when he surrendered.
Three students – Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Hana St Juliana, 14 – were pronounced dead at the scene and a fourth, 17-year-old Justin Shilling, died in hospital the next day. A further six students and one teacher were injured.
The carnage which seemed unimaginable to students, parents and community members who watched it unfold was exactly what Mr Crumbley intended, according to prosecutors.
Details about his alleged plans for the attack emerged at his arraignment on Wednesday.
Lt Tim Willis of the Oakland County Sheriff’s office said investigators found two videos on Mr Crumbley’s cell phone in which he talked about shooting and killing students at the high school.
They also found a journal in his backpack which described his “desire to shoot up the school to include murdering students”, Mr Willis said.
Mr Crumbley’s Instagram page reportedly featured a photo of the handgun he used in the shooting, with the caption: “Just got my new beauty today.” His father, James Crumbley, reportedly purchased the gun on Black Friday.
Ms McDonald, the Oakland County prosecutor, highlighted another “disturbing” and “troubling” piece of evidence at a press conference on Wednesday, but said she could not yet disclose what it was.
She said investigators are still sifting through evidence but have thus far have zero doubt that the attack was premeditated. “I am absolutely sure after reviewing the evidence that it isn’t even a close call, it was absolutely premeditated,” she said.
Parents under scrutiny
Ms McDonald said investigators are working to determine whether Mr Crumbley’s parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, knew of his plans for the attack. She said her office is still weighing the possibility of charges against the pair.
They were, however, aware of concerns about his behaviour in the days prior, according to Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard.
Mr Bouchard said two teachers separately reported concerning behaviour from Mr Crumbley, first on the day before the shooting and again on the day it happened.
The first came when “a teacher in the classroom where he was a student saw and heard something that she felt was disturbing”, Mr Bouchard told CNN.
“They had a counselling session about it with school officials, and a phone call was left with the parents,” he added.
The following day, a different teacher “saw behaviour they felt was concerning” and called Mr Crumbley into a meeting with school officials, which his parents also joined.
Mr Crumbley was allowed to return to class after the meeting. Just hours later, he opened fire.
After he was taken into custody, Mr Crumbley’s parents refused to give investigators permission to speak to him, authorities said. They appeared at his arraignment via video, but did not say anything.
A cache of weapons was seized from the family’s home after the shooting, including several long guns.
Jennifer Crumbley, a real estate broker in Oxford, shared enthusiasm for guns in an open letter to Donald Trump in November 2016 after he was elected president.
“As a female and a Realtor, thank you for allowing my right to bear arms,” the 43-year-old wrote. “Allowing me to be protected if I show a home to someone with bad intentions. Thank you for respecting that Amendment.”
James Crumbley, a 45-year-old tech salesman, shared the letter on social media and wrote: “My wife can be spot on.”
Ms McDonald did not say whether investigators believe the parents knew their son had taken the handgun on the day of the shooting, or if he did so without permission.
Under Michigan law, the parents of a child who violates firearm-related statutes on school property or in a school vehicle can be held criminally liable if the parent knew the child’s intentions or furthered their actions.
As for whether charges will be filed against the parents, Ms McDonald said: “We know that owning a gun means securing it properly and locking it and keeping the ammunition separate and not allowing access to other individuals, particularly minors. We know that and we have to hold individuals accountable who don’t do that.”
Trouble on campus
Administrators at the school have also faced scrutiny over their handling of concerns about Mr Crumbley’s behaviour, as well as their response to rumours of violence on campus.
Speaking to reporters soon after the shooting, Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne insisted the school had no prior knowledge of the attack.
As panicked parents rushed to locate their children in the chaos after the shooting, one mother claimed that her son had expressed serious concern about trouble brewing on the campus hours earlier.
Robin Redding told the Associated Press her son Treshan Bryant, a 12th grader at the school, opted to stay home on Tuesday because he and his younger cousins had a “bad feeling” that violence could be coming.
Mr Bryant told the outlet he had heard vague threats about plans for a shooting “for a long time now”.
“You’re not supposed to play about that,” he said. “This is real life.”
While investigators have yet to determine a motive for the shooting, Ms Redding said: “This couldn’t be just random.”
Ms Redding didn’t offer details about what her son had heard but shared general concern with safety at the school.
“Kids just, like they’re just mad at each other at this school,” she said.
It later emerged that school officials had sent a vague letter to parents dismissing the existence of safety threats on campus three weeks earlier.
“We are aware of the numerous rumors that have been circulating throughout our building this week. We understand that has created some concern for students and parents,” the letter dated 12 November stated.
“Please know that we have reviewed every concern shared with us and investigated all information provided. Some rumors have evolved from an incident last week, while others do not appear to have any connection. Student interpretations of social media posts and false information have exacerbated the overall concern.
“We want our parents and students to know there has been no threat to our building nor our students.”
Following the shooting, critics have pointed to the letter as evidence that the school knew trouble was brewing and didn’t do enough to address it.
‘Fervent hope’ for gun reform
Shockwaves from Tuesday’s shooting rippled far beyond the campus itself, as gun control advocates nationwide pointed to Oxford in renewed calls for reform.
The shooting joins a list of 28 that have taken place in US schools so far this year, according to Everytown.org.
Ms McDonald stressed the importance of learning from Oxford’s heartache during Wednesday’s press conference.
“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.
“It’s my fervent hope that this will be the last time that we experience an incident like this in Oakland County or anywhere.”