OXFORD, Mich. — A Michigan prosecutor says a decision on whether to file charges against the parents of the Oxford High School shooting suspect could be coming soon, days after authorities say the 15-year-old opened fire there, killing four classmates and injuring seven other people.
As students and the extended community started to pick up the pieces, dozens of area schools closed Thursday because of security concerns as local and federal law enforcement investigated hundreds of threats made online, none of which had seemed credible so far, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said. Copycat threats have further traumatized all who had been victimized by the violence, he said, pleading with people to consider the impact of their actions, including possible criminal charges.
“If you’re making threats, we’re going to find you,” Bouchard said. “It’s ridiculous you’re inflaming the fears and passions of parents, teachers and the community in the midst of a real tragedy.”
In Oxford, where ribbon-wrapped trees line the streets, residents of this Michigan town are feeling the ripples of the deadliest school shooting this year in which four students were slain: 17-year-old Justin Shilling, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin and 16-year-old Tate Myre. Three students remain hospitalized with gunshot wounds but are all in stable condition, and four of the injured were discharged, according to officials.
A 15-year-old Oxford High School sophomore, Ethan Crumbley, has been charged with a slew of felonies in the attack, including four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and one count of terrorism causing death, charges that could send him to prison for life.
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said she is also weighing charges for Crumbley’s parents and expects to announce her decision in 24 hours. Officials have not shared how they believe the teenage suspect came to get the semiautomatic handgun, which authorities say his father purchased at a local gun shop four days before the shooting.
“Responsible gun owners have a right to possess a gun but with it comes responsibility,” she said at a news conference Thursday, “and making it accessible and not securing it and allowing it in the hands of somebody that show signs that they may hurt somebody is not okay.”
McDonald also spelled out possible charges for what authorities deem false reports of threats. Some 14 school districts in suburban Detroit were shuttered Thursday over threats, affecting about 60 schools, Bouchard said.
On Washington Street, the main thoroughfare in downtown Oxford, people in winter jackets trickled in and out of coffee shops, restaurants, and stores on Thursday afternoon.
In front of a red brick building, a white sandwich board reads “Oxford Strong/ We’re here for you/ We love you” and a large stuffed bear was seated in a chair welcoming residents into the Funky Monkey Toy Store. Inside, quiet piano music played over the speakers, replacing the laughter of children who would typically be buzzing through the store.
“It’s very somber,” said Tom Jones, 62, who owns and runs the store with his wife, as they’ve sought to offer a safe space for residents in the hours and days since the shooting. “People still are coming and they’re still shopping,” he said. “But it’s very, very somber.”
On Friday night, thousands of residents from Oxford and likely throughout the metro Detroit area will gather in the intersection just outside the toy shop for a vigil.
“We’ve heard a lot of the fifth graders, sixth graders in grade school are just terrified,” Jones said. “We’re hearing that the younger brothers, sisters, and even people that don’t have children in the high school, that the grade school kids are scared to go back to school.”
This attack appears to be the deadliest instance of on-campus violence in more than 18 months. And while school shootings remain rare, there have been more this year — 34 — than in any year since 1999, according to a Washington Post database that tracks acts of gun violence on K-12 campuses during regular school hours.
The total for 2021 has also surpassed the previous record of 29 from three years ago, even as most students were still going to school remotely for the first two months of the year.
Kamari Kendrick said he woke up the morning after the shooting with new emotions, realizing that he needed to come to terms with the previous day’s events. It felt like it might have been a dream.
“It felt like yesterday didn’t happen,” he said. “And it still kind of feels like that. My mind can’t comprehend and accept that it happened.”
He said he had stayed up late texting his lacrosse teammates on their group chat. In addition to those texts, talking to classmates and grief counselors, and taking time to play some basketball, had helped, he said.
“My dad really forced me to get out there. I didn’t really want to go and see anybody,” he said. “Yeah, but I’m glad he made me go.”
He said it helped to know “that I wasn’t alone with my thoughts, and we all felt pretty much the same.”
Still, two days after the shooting, questions still linger.
Speaking in a video, Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne acknowledged that administrators had met with the suspect and his parents the same day as the attack but declined to offer more details other than saying discipline wasn’t warranted.
“I will take any and all questions at a later time but that’s not now,” he said in a video message. “This is as much information as I can give you today.”
Throne offered a glimpse at the school in the aftermath, calling it a “warzone.” He said students and staff sprung into action amid the chaos, with administrators performing CPR on victims and students shielding themselves from danger. Backpacks, phones and other personal items were left behind amid the panic and will be returned, he said, after time is given for grieving and funerals. He hoped the school could reopen in “weeks,” he said.
“These events that have occurred will not define us,” he said. “We will be resolved with a clear memory in how we move forward.”
John Woodrow Cox and Reis Thebault contributed to this report.