Oxford school officials met with suspect day before, day of shooting to discuss behavior

Oxford High School officials met with the 15-year-old suspected of killing four students and wounding seven others the day before and the morning of the shooting to discuss his behavior, Oakland County Sherriff Michael Bouchard confirmed Wednesday.

The sheriff's office said it was unaware of these meetings or any concerning behavior by the suspected shooter until after the shooting.

“We have since learned that the schools did have contact with the student the day before and the day of the shooting for behavior in the classroom that they felt was concerning,” Bouchard said during a news conference.

“In fact, the parents were brought in the morning of the shooting and had a face-to-face meeting with the school. The content of that meeting obviously is part of the investigation.”

An Oakland County Sheriff sits outside of Oxford High School in Oxford, Mich. on Dec. 1, 2021.

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Ethan Crumbley faces a slew of criminal charges, including four counts of first-degree murder. The sheriff repeatedly declined to provide additional information about the behavior discussed during that meeting.

Before the two meetings, Bouchard said there was nothing in Crumbley's file indicating any evidence of concerning behavior.

Multiple family members and students have told the Free Press that rumors had swirled in the days and weeks before Nov. 30. A school district spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether school administrators knew about possible threats before the shooting.

Bouchard said Crumbley never left school after the meeting with his parents and administrators. That meeting occurred a little after 10 a.m., Bouchard said; the shooting happened a few minutes before 1 p.m.

Stephen Cumbey, whose two sons attend Oxford High, wrote in a Facebook message to the Free Press that parents received two letters in November about possible threats to student safety. Parents were told, he said, that those threats weren't connected to Tuesday's shooting. Bouchard reiterated this Wednesday during the news conference.

Cumbey's son Zander is a junior and his son Nolan is a freshman. The freshman and his biology classmates were two classrooms down the hall waiting for class to start, Cumbey said. They immediately barricaded themselves in their classroom.

“My sons said they'd seen some things on social media, but that neither one of them took them seriously,” he wrote. “They figured since the school wasn't saying anything, they didn't need to worry about it.”

Asked whether the school should have told law enforcement about Crumbley's behavior, Bouchard declined to get into specifics but said it is part of the investigation.

“We always prefer to err on the side of too much rather than too little,” Bouchard said.

In theory, the school district could be liable in a civil lawsuit, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told the Free Press.

“Depending on the facts as they unfold, I'm sure that the school district is probably legitimately concerned about lawsuits at this point,” Nessel said in a phone interivew.

“Could there be viable lawsuits if some of this evidence unfolds in a way where it became clear that school officials knew of a threat that this young man posed, but did nothing to contain the threat? If that's true, I would expect to see lawsuits and I would expect that there would be the potential finding by a court of liability.”

Students, parents had heard of threats

Courtney Hall, 16, said safety concerns factored in her decision to spend her junior year virtual, and she was not on campus when the shooting occurred.

In the weeks and days leading up to the shooting, Hall said her in-person school friends witnessed a troubling incident involved a severed deer head: someone vandalized the school using red paint, climbed on to the building's roof and threw the animal's head into an otherwise inaccessible courtyard, according to the school. Law enforcement later said the incident was unrelated to the shooting, but safety felt tenuous, Hall said.

“For the protection of us, they should be doing sweeps through the school at the beginning of the day to make sure there's nothing harming us or worrying us,” she said. “And they didn't do that.”

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Someone posted photos of the gun allegedly used at Oxford High School and targets on social media in the days leading up to Tuesday's shooting.

Bouchard confirmed the suspect appeared to make an online post with an image of the gun used, but the sheriff repeatedly stressed his office was not aware of any credible threats of violence ahead of the shooting.

He did confirm the school employs private security, in addition to a school resource officer. There were at least one or two private security officers at the school at the time of the shooting, Bouchard said.

The sheriff's office is still trying to discern a motive, Bouchard said. The school's coordinator of anti-bullying programs said there was no information Crumbley was bullied ahead of the shooting.

“There is nothing that he could have faced that would warrant the senseless, absolutely brutal violence on other kids,” Bouchard said.

Expert: Threat assessment teams could help

Lisa Kovach, an educational psychology professor at the University of Toledo and director of the Center for Education in Mass Violence and Suicide, said schools should put together threat assessment teams — teams of educators and mental health professionals working to spot students in crisis who may pose a threat to school safety.

“Any concerns brought to them should be documented and thoroughly investigated because we know that there are some some signs, there are some patterns,” she said.

Threat assessment teams in schools may sometimes walk a delicate line with the students they assess, who could feel targeted by the attention. But Kovach argues that it is more effective in stopping threats and getting students the mental health attention they might need.

“We need to try to establish: Does the individual have access to weapons? Do they know how to use these weapons? That is huge, absolutely huge,” she said.

Contact Lily Altavena: laltavena@freepress.com or follow her on Twitter @LilyAlta.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Oxford school officials met with suspect before shooting

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