School Tries to Explain How It Missed Shooter Warning Signs

·5 min read
Oakland County Sheriff via Reuters
Oakland County Sheriff via Reuters

The Michigan school where a student killed four teens and wounded seven other people is defending its handling of the suspect’s troubling behavior while promising an outside investigation into its actions.

In a letter released Saturday, Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne admitted that school officials accepted Ethan Crumbley’s explanations into why he was looking at pictures of bullets on his phone and had drawn violent images and statements—and then sent him to class when his parents refused to take him home.

“Given the fact that the child had no prior disciplinary infractions, the decision was made [that] he would be returned to the classroom rather than sent home to an empty house,” Throne wrote. “These incidents remained at the guidance counselor level and were never elevated to the principal or assistant principal’s office.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>A memorial outside of Oxford High School.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Scott Olson/Getty</div>

A memorial outside of Oxford High School.

Scott Olson/Getty

The parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter for buying him the gun he used and failing to take action after the school flagged his behavior. The couple sparked a manhunt when they failed to appear at their arraignment but were later arrested “hiding” in an industrial building, police said.

The letter from Throne says the Crumbleys gave them no reason to believe that his behavior was a sign that he could hurt others or himself—although they did recommend the parents get him counseling.

The first incident happened on Nov. 29, the day before the rampage, when it was found that Ethan was looking at bullet photos on his cellphone in class. He told a counselor that shooting was a family hobby, and while the school tried to call Jennifer Crumbley to discuss the matter, she did not call back.

The next day, however, when the parents were summoned to the school, they confirmed the family were gun enthusiasts, Throne said.

They were called in because that morning, a teacher saw “concerning drawings and written statements” and went to the counseling office and dean of students. Police have said the drawings included a handgun, of a person who had been shot, laughing emojis, a bullet, and the phrases: “the thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” “blood everywhere,” “my life is useless,” and “the world is dead.”

“The student was immediately removed from the classroom and brought to the guidance counselor’s office where he claimed the drawing was part of a video game he was designing and informed counselors that he planned to pursue video game design as a career. The student’s parents were also called in,” Throne wrote.

Ethan busied himself with homework while waiting for his parents, the superintendent said, adding that “at no time did counselors believe the student might harm others based on his behavior, responses and demeanor, which appeared calm.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Jennifer, Ethan, and James Crumbley</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Oxford County Sheriff via Reuters</div>

Jennifer, Ethan, and James Crumbley

Oxford County Sheriff via Reuters

“While both of his parents were present, counselors asked specific probing questions regarding the potential for self-harm or harm to others. His answers, which were affirmed by his parents during the interview, led counselors to again conclude he did not intend on committing either self-harm or harm to others,” Throne wrote. “The student’s parents never advised the school district that he had direct access to a firearm or that they had recently purchased a firearm for him.”

The school told the Crumbleys they had 48 hours to get counseling for Ethan, or they would contact Child Protective Services. “When the parents were asked to take their son home for the day, they flatly refused and left without their son, apparently to return to work,” the letter said.

Police have said Ethan apparently had the handgun in his backpack during the meeting and then returned to class with it, although Throne said that had not been confirmed. Either way, soon after, Ethan emerged from a bathroom—firing his Sig Sauer 9mm.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Thousands gathered Friday for a vigil to remember the students killed.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Seth Herald/Reuters</div>

Thousands gathered Friday for a vigil to remember the students killed.

Seth Herald/Reuters

Throne said the counselors could not be blamed for the decision to let Ethan stay at school that day.

“While we understand this decision has caused anger, confusion and prompted understandable questioning, the counselors made a judgment based on their professional training and clinical experience and did not have all the facts we now know,” he wrote.

Those facts include two videos found on Ethan’s phone made the night before the shooting in which he talked about shooting students the next day, a journal with similar sentiments, and social media posts of him practicing with the handgun, according to prosecutors.

Throne said he has “personally asked for a third-party review of all the events of the past week because our community and our families deserve a full, transparent accounting of what occurred.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel publicly responded to Throne on Sunday morning, saying her office was willing to conduct a “full and comprehensive” investigation. In a tweet, she revealed that her staff had reached out to the lawyer for the school district.

“Our attorneys and special agents are uniquely qualified to perform an investigation of this magnitude,” Nessel continued in a second tweet, “and are prepared to perform an extensive investigation and inquiry to answer the many questions the community has regarding this tragedy.”

Meanwhile, Jennifer and James Crumbley remain locked up in the Oxford County Jail, where Ethan is also being held on charges of terrorism and first-degree murder.

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