PONTIAC, Mich. – A Michigan judge has ruled that staff and administrators at Oxford High School cannot be sued for a mass shooting that left four students dead and seven others wounded.
Oakland County Circuit Judge Mary Ellen Brennan also dismissed Oxford Community Schools from civil lawsuits related to the shooting, stating that the district and staff are protected by governmental immunity.
Authorities have accused Ethan Crumbley, 16, of using a semi-automatic handgun to open fire Nov. 30, 2021 on other teenagers in the hallway at the school roughly 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Detroit. The four students who were killed were 16-year-old Tate Myre, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin and 17-year-old Justin Shilling.
Crumbley, who was 15 at the time of the shooting, pleaded guilty in October to terrorism and first-degree murder charges. Prosecutors have said they’ll seek a life sentence with no chance for parole.
School officials have been criticized by the county sheriff and Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald for not alerting a school resource officer about their concerns with Crumbley and not searching the teen’s backpack before allowing him to return to class about three hours before the shooting.
The day before the shooting, a teacher saw Crumbley looking at ammunition on his phone while in class. School officials left a voicemail informing his mother about it. On the morning of the shooting, Crumbley’s parents were summoned to the school and confronted with his drawings, which included a handgun and the words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”
Authorities said his parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, refused to take him home after the 13-minute meeting and were told to get him counseling.
A lawyer representing some families of the victims who filed the lawsuit has said some teachers and a counselor at the high school were aware of Crumbley’s troubling interest in guns and violence months before the mass shooting.
But Brennan placed the responsibility on Crumbley, writing in Friday's order that “the court concludes that Ethan Crumbley's act of firing the gun, rather than the alleged conduct of the individual Oxford defendants, was ‘the one most immediate, efficient, and direct cause of the injury or damage.'"
Detroit-based attorney Ven Johnson said he plans to appeal Brennan’s ruling to the Michigan Court of Appeals.
“On behalf of our Oxford clients, we are deeply saddened and disappointed by Judge Brennan’s dismissal today of all the Oxford Community Schools defendants," Johnson said. “We maintain that governmental immunity is wrong and unconstitutional, and the law should be changed immediately.”
A group of Oxford parents and students who filed a federal lawsuit seeking a court-ordered safety plan for schools in the district says “some schools will hide behind governmental immunity to protect themselves instead of our students and children.”
“As long as governmental immunity completely shields schools like Oxford, it will only serve to deny families transparency, justice, and accountability,” Change 4 Oxford said in a statement. “Without real change, our schools’ incentive to truly improve safety policies will remain limited due to their ability to hide behind immunity when future tragedies occur.”
Brennan's ruling doesn't apply to Ethan Crumbley and his parents, who also are named in the civil lawsuit.
McDonald, the prosecutor, also charged James and Jennifer Crumbley with involuntary manslaughter, accusing them of failing to keep the gun used in the shooting secure at home and failing to reasonably care for their son when he showed signs of mental distress.
Michigan's Supreme Court ordered the state appeals court to hear an appeal from the couple who face trial.