In Michigan School Shooting, First Lawsuits Are Filed
The parents of two sisters who survived the Oxford High School shootings have filed two $100 million suits against the district and its officials.,
The parents of two sisters who survived the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit filed two $100 million lawsuits in federal court on Thursday against the school district and its officials, including the superintendent, principal, dean of students, two guidance counselors and two teachers.
The plaintiffs are Jeffrey and Brandi Franz, parents of Riley, a 17-year old senior, and Bella, a 14-year old freshman. Riley was shot in the neck in front of her sister.
The lawsuit claims constitutional violations under the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection, and violations under Michigan state law, because the teenagers “had a clearly established right to be free from danger.” And, the lawsuit states, school staff members acted in “reckless disregard” for the victims’ safety.
The shooting killed four students and seriously injured several others. Ethan Crumbley, 15, has been charged with murder and terrorism. His parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, because, the prosecutor has said, they should have known that their son was a danger to his school. All have pleaded not guilty.
The actions of the school district, Oxford Community Schools, have also been under a microscope. At a news conference last week, the Oakland County prosecutor Karen D. McDonald outlined a chilling sequence of events that led to the shooting.
The day before the shooting, a teacher found Mr. Crumbley searching for ammunition on his phone. The school was aware, Ms. McDonald said, that he had recently visited a shooting range with his mother. And on the morning of the shooting, a teacher discovered an alarming drawing from Mr. Crumbley that included a gun, a person who had been shot and the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”
Mr. Crumbley’s parents were called to an immediate meeting at the school with their son. They were told to put him into counseling within 48 hours or risk being reported to Child Protective Services. They refused to take him home when asked to do so, according to the prosecutor.
The school district has said that school officials chose to return Mr. Crumbley to class following that meeting, after observing him behave normally in the guidance office. Mr. Crumbley’s belongings were not searched for a weapon, and later that day, he began shooting after emerging from a bathroom, according to authorities.
The lawsuit filed Thursday by the parents’ lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger, contains several accusations about Mr. Crumbley’s behavior leading up to the attack. It states that the night before the shooting, Mr. Crumbley posted to Twitter, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. See you tomorrow Oxford.”
The complaint says that on social media, “Ethan Crumbley posted countdowns and threats of bodily harm” and that parents complained to administrators about such social media messages in the weeks before the shooting, but that the superintendent, Tim Throne, and principal, Steven Wolf, said the threats were not credible.
The suit also states that school officials did not involve the campus safety officer in the meeting with Mr. Crumbley and his parents on the day of the shooting. It says that the principal and dean of students were in the meeting with Mr. Crumbley. Mr. Fieger did not immediately respond to a question about the source of this information.
Years of civil litigation often follow school shootings. But administrators, teachers and counselors rarely have to fear criminal charges, according to legal experts — even when there was some kind of advance warning of potential violence.