OXFORD, Mich. — The 15-year-old boy accused of a shooting rampage that killed four of his classmates and injured seven others at a Michigan high school was charged as an adult on Wednesday with first-degree murder and terrorism, counts that could send him to prison for life.
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said that additional charges were possible and that her office is also considering charging Crumbley’s parents. Authorities have not commented on what may have motivated the shooting, but McDonald said investigators have a “mountain of digital evidence” that shows it was premeditated.
“This was not just an impulsive act,” McDonald said.
The decision to charge Crumbley as an adult “is necessary to achieve justice and protect the public,” she said.
The attack appears to be the deadliest episode of on-campus violence in more than 18 months, and while school shootings remain rare but terrifying events, the 34 in 2021 mark the most of any year since at least 1999, according to a Washington Post database of gun violence on K-12 campuses during regular school hours.
Officials identified the four slain students as 17-year-old Justin Shilling, who died Wednesday; 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana; 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin and 16-year-old Tate Myre.
At a makeshift memorial outside the school on Wednesday, candles and teddy bears honored the four teens. Three of the victims were athletes, with Myre on the football team, St. Juliana on the basketball and volleyball squads, and Shilling on the bowling and golf teams. Baldwin, the fourth person killed, was an artist who loved to draw, write and read.
Three other students remain hospitalized with gunshot wounds, including a 17-year-old girl who is in critical condition after being shot in the chest.
At Crumbley’s arraignment Wednesday, he was charged with a host of felonies — 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 — and a judge ordered him transferred from a youth detention facility to a county jail.
The terrorism charge, an unusual count in a school shooting case, is appropriate here, McDonald argued. The killed and injured are victims of the murder and assault charges, she said.
“But what about all these other children?” McDonald said. “What about all the children who ran screaming, hiding under desks? What about all the children at home right now, who can’t eat and can’t sleep, who can’t imagine a world where they could ever step foot back in that school? Those are victims, too, and so are their families, and so is the community, and the charge of terrorism reflects that.”
Prosecutors will need to prove that Crumbley “intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population,” according to the state’s penal code.
In the aftermath of other school shootings, investigators turned up writings from the gunmen that indicated they took pleasure in terrorizing others, said psychologist Peter Langman, an expert on school shootings and author of “Warning Signs: Identifying School Shooters Before They Strike.” But none were prosecuted for terrorism.
“I don’t recall that charge in any other school shooting I’ve studied,” he said.
Crumbley, appearing at the hearing via video conference, sat motionless in a face mask and green jail-issue vest as the 24 charges against him were read. He stood mute, a plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf and he was denied bond. His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, appeared side-by-side in a virtual appearance before switching off their cameras for the remainder of the hearing.
Crumbley’s parents and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
Marc Keast, a prosecutor, called the attack “planned” and “methodical,” and authorities testified that Crumbley had recorded a video the night before the shooting talking about killing fellow students.
Authorities were investigating how Crumbley got access to the gun. They said his father purchased the 9mm pistol on Nov. 26, just days before the bloodshed, but declined to say how Crumbley then obtained the weapon.
It is illegal under Michigan law for someone younger than 18 to possess a gun in public. In schools, it is illegal to carry a concealed gun, and some school districts in the state also ban open carry.
Police were also examining the pair of meetings between school officials and the suspect, which Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said they learned about on Wednesday.
Bouchard said the content of the meetings is part of the investigation, and he said that before those conversations, there was “nothing in his file” on concerning behavior or discipline.
The Tuesday meeting with Crumbley’s parents took place shortly after 10 a.m., Bouchard said, and Crumbley returned to class afterward. Minutes before 1 p.m., the shooter emerged from a bathroom with the loaded gun and began shooting as he walked through the school’s hallways.
The shooter had three 15-round magazines on him, Bouchard said, and he fired more than 30 shots. When officers took Crumbley into custody, he had 18 rounds left, including some loose in his pocket, the sheriff said. Bouchard praised the bravery of the first responders who confronted Crumbley at the school.
According to the Giffords Law Center, a gun violence-prevention group that publishes information about gun laws, Michigan ranks 20th in the nation for states with the strongest gun laws.
“Michigan laws are certainly not the weakest in the country, but they could be a lot stronger,” Allison Anderman, the center’s senior counsel, said in an interview Tuesday night.
Anderman noted that school shootings are still exceptionally rare compared with other types of shootings. Yet in most school shootings, the weapon is a firearm left unsecured in the home.
Since 2018, when 17 people were killed during a shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school, many states have passed legislation making it more difficult for children to access firearms.
Eleven states have laws concerning firearm-locking devices, including Michigan, in an attempt to reduce the risk of guns falling into the hands of children or criminals, according to the Giffords Law Center. Michigan does not require firearm owners to lock their weapons.
In Oxford Township, home to 22,000 people, members of the community were reeling from the previous day’s events. Students from the high school recalled the moments as the horror unfolded: screams in the hallway, teachers urging students to move away from doors. Recent graduates expressed concern about friends who were injured — and the shock of seeing their school’s name at the center of a tragedy.
Jamie Miller, who graduated from Oxford High School last year, said the only way to describe the news is “unreal.”
“You see school shootings all over the news, and it’s terrible,” she said. “Then you see your school in the headlines, and names of people you know. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Oxford High School junior Olivia Hoffman had just sat down in her fifth-hour class when she heard screaming in the hallway. A fellow student, who was not in her class, burst into the room in a panic.
“She seemed like she didn’t know whether to come in for shelter or keep running,” Hoffman said. “She turned and ran.”
A quick-thinking student shut and locked the door, and the teacher instructed the students to sit in the corner of the classroom away from the door, she recounted.
That’s when they heard the gunshots. “It sounded like the shots were right outside the door,” she said.
Hoffman was scared for herself, but it was the screams outside the door she remembers most. “I was scared and worried for the people around me, the people in the hallway,” she said.
Max Charltom, who graduated two years ago, said one of his friends was shot.
“You never expect this to happen, not in a backwater town like this,” he said. But, he said, “Everyone is coming together, working together and supporting each other.”
Around Oxford, trees lining the streets were wrapped in blue and yellow ribbons. Near the high school, a church and community center held a vigil. The McDonald’s next door served customers free of charge. Throughout the village, and the state, American flags flew at half-staff. The words “Oxford Strong” were written in the front window of a downtown business.
The sign at Oxford High School was adorned with bouquets, stuffed animals, candles and a cross. A boy wearing a varsity jacket stood alone in front of the sign crying. When an older mourner approached him, the strangers embraced. As the man turned to leave, the student called after him, “Stay strong.”
Kayla Ruble in Oxford, Holly Bailey in Minneapolis, Annabelle Timsit in London, and John Woodrow Cox, Steven Rich, Marisa Iati, Kim Bellware, Lateshia Beachum, Hannah Knowles, Laura Meckler, María Luisa Paúl and Keith McMillan in Washington contributed to this report.