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Michigan schools order investigation after staff raised alarms about suspect hours before fatal shooting

A growing memorial is pictured outside Oxford High School in Michigan, days after four students died in a shooting allegedly carried out by a classmate. (Nic Antaya/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

The Michigan high school student accused of fatally shooting four classmates had numerous conversations with school counselors in the day and hours before the shooting, before staff sent him back to class despite finding images of bullets on his phone and disturbing drawings at his desk, the superintendent told parents in a detailed letter.

Those conversations will be part of an independent investigation into the school’s actions, said Tim Throne, the superintendent of Oxford Community Schools. The state’s attorney general offered her office’s assistance in that probe Sunday.

In a lengthy note to families Saturday, Throne said he had requested an investigation be done by an independent security consultant “so we leave no stone unturned” after concerns were raised that the school did not do enough before the shooting to prevent the rampage.

The email also detailed the school’s account of the events preceding the shooting, which took place Tuesday and left four dead and seven injured.

What we know about the four teen victims in the Michigan Oxford High School shooting

The day before the shooting, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley was found by a teacher to be viewing images of bullets on his phone during class. When questioned by a counselor and another staff member, Crumbley said he and his mother had recently gone to a shooting range and that shooting was a family hobby. The next day, Throne wrote, his parents confirmed his account.

The morning of the shooting, a teacher noticed drawings and writings allegedly done by Crumbley and reported them to school counselors and the dean of students. Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald described a violent drawing that included the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”

“Blood everywhere” was scrawled next to a drawing of a bullet, and there was a sketch of a bloody figure with two gunshot wounds.

Crumbley was brought to the guidance counselor’s office, where he said the drawings were merely “part of a video game he was designing,” Throne said in the note. Crumbley told counselors that he wanted to pursue video game design as a career.

Crumbley’s parents were summoned to the school, and while waiting for them, he stayed in the office for an hour and a half, Throne wrote, “while counselors continued to observe, analyze and speak with” him.

Once they arrived, his parents were informed that they were to seek counseling for him within 48 hours or the school would contact Child Protective Services. His parents refused to take him home and left, leading counselors to send him back to class “rather than sent home to an empty house,” Throne wrote.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and others gathered at a Dec. 3 vigil in Oxford, Mich., for those killed and injured in a Nov. 30 shooting. (Video: The Washington Post)

Despite the graphic drawings and the episode the day before, “at no time did counselors believe the student might harm others based on his behavior, responses and demeanor, which appeared calm,” Throne said. The matter was not brought to the school’s principal or assistant principal, and “remained at the guidance counselor level,” he said.

The FBI, in a threat assessment of school shooters, said “the path toward violence is an evolutionary one, with signposts along the way.” One such signpost: “fantasies of destruction or revenge,” including in drawings. According to the American Psychological Association, “access to or fascination with weapons, especially guns,” can be signs of potential violence “and may escalate or contribute to the risk of violence.”

Crumbley has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, in addition to one count of “terrorism causing death.” His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Why the Oxford shooting suspect was charged with terrorism

The revelations in recent days that counselors at the school were aware of troubling indicators but allowed Crumbley to return to class have fueled anger in the small Michigan community still reeling from the tragedy.

“So many missed opportunities,” Casey Smith, 43, whose 14-year-old daughter survived the shooting, told The Washington Post. “It’s such a letdown. It’s unforgivable. I know it wasn’t malice … but incompetence is not an excuse when it comes to something like that.”

Throne said the concerns were “understandable” but defended the counselors, writing that they had “made a judgment based on their professional training and clinical experience and did not have all the facts we now know.”

He also appeared to place blame on Crumbley’s parents.

The couple “never advised the school district that he had direct access to a firearm or that they had recently purchased a firearm for him,” Throne said, adding that the parents were present when Crumbley was asked “specific probing questions” about whether he would harm himself or others.

Read more:

After Michigan shooting suspect’s parents are arrested, town grapples with an awful new reality: ‘Everyone’s on edge’

15-year-old charged with terrorism, murder in Oxford High shooting as fourth victim dies

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