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Michigan superintendent calls claims in lawsuit over high school shooting ‘irresponsible and false’

Jan 20, 2022, 3:37 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 3:21 pm
OXFORD, MI - DECEMBER 07: An exterior view of Oxford High School on December 7, 2021 in Oxford, Mic...
OXFORD, MI - DECEMBER 07: An exterior view of Oxford High School on December 7, 2021 in Oxford, Michigan. One week ago, four students were killed and seven others injured on November 30, when student Ethan Crumbley allegedly opened fire with a pistol at the school.15-year-old Ethan Crumbley has been charged along with his parents James and Jennifer Crumbley who have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter (Photo by Emily Elconin/Getty Images)
(Photo by Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

(CNN) — The superintendent of the district where four students were shot dead at a Michigan high school posted an open letter countering claims made in a lawsuit accusing the district of not doing enough to prevent the attack.

Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne’s letter on Tuesday decried what he said were “numerous irresponsible and false allegations and inaccurate claims” made about his district relating to the November 30 shooting.

The letter at that point does not mention the lawsuit, in which the parents of two surviving students accuse the district of not acting against multiple red flags before the shooting.

However, the letter goes on to argue against many claims that the lawsuit makes. Then it says the district will respond to “the inaccurate filing” by Geoffrey Fieger, the attorney who filed the lawsuit.

CNN reached out Thursday to Fieger for comment on the letter.

Ethan Crumbley, 15, is accused of opening fire at Oxford High School with a 9mm handgun on November 30, killing four students and injuring six others and one teacher. The attack, some 40 miles north of downtown Detroit, was the deadliest shooting at a US K-12 campus since 2018.

Crumbley is jailed and charged with one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf and he is awaiting trial.

Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17, died in the shooting, authorities said.

Authorities say that before the shooting, teachers reported concerning behavior from Crumbley that week, including that he was found hours before the killings with a drawing that essentially depicted a shooting.

The lawsuit contends the shooting was “entirely preventable,” in part because of other incidents that month.

 

Letter addresses bird head allegation

 

Throne’s letter addresses certain claims the lawsuit makes about Crumbley in the weeks before the shooting — including that he allegedly brought a severed bird head to school in a jar on November 11, and left the jar on a toiler paper dispenser in a boys’ bathroom.

According to the lawsuit, students reported the incident to school officials.

But Throne’s letter says law enforcement looked into the matter, and investigators “were unable to determine when or how the jar was delivered.”

Law enforcement “determined there was no threat to the high school. … No threat or other content accompanied the strange act,” Throne’s letter reads.

Throne’s letter also addresses tips made through Michigan’s “OK2SAY” program, in which people can confidentially report threats to student safety. All tips in November were investigated by law enforcement, Throne wrote.

“The only actionable information received was on November 17 from from an anonymous tip stating that a student, who is no longer a student of Oxford High School and not the perpetrator from November 30, was responsible for the bird head,” Throne’s letter reads.

 

Superintendent says live ammunition claim is false

 

The lawsuit says Crumbley “brought live ammunition to Oxford High School and openly displayed the same while in the classroom” on November 29, the day before the shooting.

Throne wrote that “allegations regarding live ammunition being discovered at school are completely false.”

“We have no record or report of live ammunition ever being reported at any school and we have strict protocols and procedures in place when it comes to weapons on school grounds,” Throne’s letter reads.

The county prosecutor has alleged that on November 29, a teacher at Oxford High School saw Crumbley searching online for ammunition on his phone.

The teacher notified school officials, who contacted Crumbley’s parents via phone and email, but they did not respond, officials said.

 

Letter addresses claims about social media concerns

 

The lawsuit says that on November 16, parents expressed concerns with the principal about threats Crumbley allegedly made on social media.

About these allegations, Throne’s letter simply says: “The district was unaware of the perpetrator’s social media presence or related posts until after the November 30 incident.”

According to the lawsuit, the principal and superintendent reviewed Crumbley’s posts, which the lawsuit says threatened Oxford High students. Crumbley’s Instagram and other social media accounts were set to public, meaning anyone could view them, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges that the principal emailed parents, also on November 16, saying: “I know I’m being redundant here, but there is absolutely no threat at the HS … large assumptions were made from a few social media posts, then the assumptions evolved into exaggerated rumors.”

After the email exchanges, the superintendent warned students — over loudspeaker — “to stop spreading information over social media and stop relying on information on social media,” the lawsuit states.

“At all times relevant (the superintendent’s) actions, by advising each and every student … that there was no credible threat, demonstrated conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury (wound) result,” the lawsuit reads.

 

Lawsuit was amended in January

 

The lawsuit was initially filed in a US District Court in Michigan in December by the family of two sisters who survived the shooting, and was amended January 7. Oxford Community Schools, its superintendent, the Oxford High School’s principal and dean of students, as well as unnamed counselors, teachers and a staffer are defendants.

One of the sisters was shot in the neck during the attack, the lawsuit says, and the other was narrowly missed. The lawsuit seeks more than $100 million for each of the girls, citing the need for medical and emotional treatment.

Throne wrote that the county prosecutor “has asked that the school district not unduly comment upon the details surrounding the case in order to avoid any interference with the criminal proceedings.”

But, the public’s “many questions will be answered in short order as the criminal prosecution moves forward and the school district responds to the inaccurate filing by Mr. Fieger,” Throne wrote.

“Principal (Steven) Wolf, school administrators, teachers, and support staff followed their training and implemented our district’s detailed emergency plans and protocols,” Throne wrote. “More to the point, they put the safety of our students above their own safety when the criminal conduct forced our community to endure this unimaginable tragedy.”

Throne wrote that the school is looking forward to having students back on campus next week, and that “we look forward to letting the truth and the facts prevail” during the investigation and legal process.

Crumbley’s parents were arrested days after the shooting and charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter. They have pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors have accused them of giving their son easy access to the gun and disregarding signs that he was a threat.

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Michigan superintendent calls claims in lawsuit over high school shooting ‘irresponsible and false’