Following condemnations from the parents of the Michigan school shooter, the victims’ families are demanding school accountability

By | March 19, 2024

While the historic trials of the parents of Michigan school shooter Ethan Crumbley led to guilty verdicts, the parents of the four students killed at Oxford High School in 2021 said Monday that their quest for accountability is far from over.

They are turning their attention back to the school district and school administrators, some of whom have been called as witnesses in the trials, to demand continued efforts from state leaders, including changes to government immunity laws that shield schools from lawsuits and require independent reviews after each mass shooting .

They also want a continued investigation into the response in Oxford, with a subpoena to force people to cooperate. They say a third-party report released last year was “damning” but also flawed, in part because school officials were not forced to cooperate. Participate.

“We’re not fighting for us anymore,” said Steve St. Juliana, whose 14-year-old daughter, Hana, was among those killed in the worst school shooting in Michigan history.

‘Our children are dead. They are not coming back,” he added. “We are fighting for everyone else and trying to wake people up to realize that what happened here in Oxford can and will happen again.”

The parents called for broader changes after the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, following James Crumbley’s conviction of involuntary manslaughter last week in the students’ deaths, said it would not bring additional criminal charges against school officials.

“If I was going to criminally charge someone at the school, I would have done that and stated that,” Attorney General Karen McDonald told NBC News on Friday.

McDonald’s office worked closely with the victims’ families in its effort to secure charges in the unusual cases against James Crumbley and his wife, Jennifer, who were convicted last month on the same involuntary manslaughter charge. During the trials, prosecutors gave the names of the victims: Hana St. Juliana; Justin Shilling, 17; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Tate Myre, 16 – in their opening statements and closing arguments.

St. Juliana said he doesn’t put much credence in a local news report last weekend that several school employees were assured McDonald would not prosecute them. school employee was given immunity or protection from prosecution” is incorrect.

“While we would like to see certain officials there face criminal charges,” St. Juliana said, “the fact is that the bar is high to meet these criminal charges.”

The Crumbleys’ trials were already a landmark: the first time US prosecutors held parents responsible for their child’s mass school shooting. Ethan Crumbley pleaded guilty as an adult to murder, terrorism and other charges and was sentenced to life in prison.

To help prove that his parents’ actions ultimately led to the massacre, the prosecutor called on Oxford High School staff members to discuss the day of the shooting in November 2021. Administrators had called the Crumbleys to the school that morning in response to a picture Ethan, then 15, had drawn of a gun, a person who had been shot and the message “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”

Staff members stated that the Crumbleys never warned them that Ethan had access to a firearm from home and that his parents refused to take him home after the meeting. The teen would commit the shooting hours later with a 9mm Sig Sauger pistol purchased for him days earlier by his father.

James Crumbley told investigators he hid the gun in a closet and placed the ammunition under a pair of jeans in another drawer. Ethan did not testify in the trials, and although his diaries and text messages were used to demonstrate his deteriorating mental state, prosecutors suggested that his parents ignored him and failed to treat him.

But attorneys for James and Jennifer Crumbley in their respective lawsuits have also shifted the blame to school administrators, who were similarly notified that Ethan was struggling.

Shawn Hopkins, a counselor at Oxford High School, testified that Ethan had wanted to stay at school after his parents attended the meeting and that instead of insisting that they take him home, Hopkins agreed to let him had to stay.

“I made the decision based on the information I had,” Hopkins said. “I had 90 minutes of information.”

Nicholas Ejak, the dean of students at Oxford High School at the time of the shooting, testified that he grabbed Ethan’s backpack from his classroom the morning of the meeting and joked that it was heavy. But no one thought to check the bag in which the shooter hid the gun and ammunition.

During closing arguments at the trial of James Crumbley, McDonald was clear to the jury that the school had committed its share of missteps.

“You may not like what the two people employed by the school who had contact with the Crumbleys that day did,” she said. “But it’s not my job to present you with the evidence that only looks good for my case. My job is to present evidence to all of you, because this is about the truth.”

Since the shooting in a Detroit suburb, families of students have sued the Oxford school district, but legal battles remain over whether they can’t be sued because of government immunity. A district judge ruled in March that “because it is undisputed that the school district was a governmental entity” at the time of the shooting, it is “immune from tort liability.”

Ven Johnson, an attorney for some of the families, said in an earlier statement that government immunity places a greater burden of proof on victims in proceedings against government officials and that “the law must be changed immediately.”

The Oxford School District did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Attorneys for the Crumbleys have expressed respect for the victims’ families. James Crumbley’s attorney, Mariell Lehman, told NBC News on Monday that he personally “feels terrible about what happened to those families.”

“This has been an incredibly emotional process,” Lehman said.

St. Juliana said Monday that in addition to a more thorough and transparent investigation into the shooting, board members should also resign to help the community heal. He’s concerned, he added, that some people just want to move on, especially now that the trials are over.

“The official position of the school is that they did nothing wrong,” St. Juliana said. “Everything has been done wrong in Oxford. It’s too late to do it right in Oxford. But Oxford is an opportunity to learn, right? So that’s how you learn from your mistakes.”

In the wake of the trials, McDonald said she is forming her own committee to share recommendations and help prevent mass shootings “far upstream, to educate people and children and prevent them from going into a crisis situation,” treating gun violence as a public health problem. crisis.

“It’s not just about teaching kids to run, hide and fight,” McDonald said. “There’s so much more we could do.”

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