In Michigan School Shooting, the First Lawsuit Is Filed

The parents of two sisters who survived the Oxford High School shootings have filed a federal suit against the district and its officials.,


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The parents of two sisters who survived the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit filed a federal lawsuit 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, filed in federal court, seeks $100 million in damages. It claims constitutional violations under the 14th Amendment and violations under Michigan state law because the teenagers “had a clearly established right to be free from danger.” The lawsuit also states that school staff members acted in “reckless disregard” for the victims’ safety.

A second suit will be filed in state court, said the parents’ lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger. Mr. Fieger represented survivors of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and has represented victims of the Flint water crisis.

Four students were killed and several others were seriously injured in the Oxford shooting. Ethan Crumbley, 15, was charged with murder and terrorism. His parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, were charged with involuntary manslaughter because the prosecutor said they should have known that their son was a danger to his school after buying him a gun. 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 Ethan 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 Children’s Protective Services. They refused to take him home when asked to do so, according to the prosecutor.

The school district has said that staff members 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 on Thursday says that “Ethan Crumbley posted countdowns and threats of bodily harm” on social media, 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 school safety officer in the meeting with Mr. Crumbley and his parents on the day of the shooting. The complaint claims that the principal and dean of students were in the meeting with the Crumbley family, while the district has said that the incidents before the shooting “remained at the guidance counselor level.”

In its defense, the school said in an earlier statement that Ethan Crumbley was returned to the classroom because he “had no prior disciplinary infractions,” adding that the counselors “made a judgment based on their professional training and clinical experience and did not have all the facts we now know.”

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Fieger said that he simply did not believe the district’s version of events, and that his lawsuit would force it to provide documentation under subpoena.

“They are being coy,” he said.

According to Mr. Fieger, Riley Franz was shot after emerging from a bathroom with Bella and a friend. The friend was one of the two girls who were shot and killed.

Riley was hospitalized and is now recuperating at home with a neck wound but no other major physical impairments, he said.

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.

In the interview, Mr. Fieger said he hoped that expensive lawsuits would force a national conversation about gun control.

“We’re the weirdest society in the world,” he said. “If we started to make it costly, we’d make a cost-benefit analysis between this so-called right to bear arms and the cost of slaughter in our schools.”

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