DETROIT – Multiple schools across the metro area were closed Thursday because of threats of violence just two days after a 15-year-old shooter at Oxford High School killed four students and wounded seven other people.
Some schools said they were closing out of an abundance of caution. On Thursday afternoon, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said he was aware of at least 60 schools closed due to threats, with most expected to be reopened by Monday.
He said all threats will be thoroughly investigated, though the sheriff’s office anticipated to be inundated with false threats following the tragedy.
“We’d check out 1,000 nothings to make sure we don’t miss the one real,” he said.
At least 14 school districts planned to close for at least one day. The superintendent of Bloomfield Hills Schools, about 20 miles south of Oxford Township, wrote in a memo Wednesday night that the district and others nearby “have received numerous reports of threats of violence circulating on social media.”
The closures come a day after Ethan Crumbley appeared in court on first-degree murder and terrorism charges after police say he opened fire at Oxford High with the “intent to kill.” Crumbley, a sophomore student, pleaded not guilty and was denied bond Wednesday. He faces a possible life sentence if convicted.
Assistant Prosecutor Marc Keast said surveillance video of the shooting showed Crumbley “methodically and deliberately” walking down a hallway and firing at students.
“What’s depicted on that video, honestly, judge, I don’t have the words to describe how horrific that was,” Keast said in court.
Here’s what we know.
‘Intent to kill’:A visual timeline of deadly shooting at Oxford High School
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald indicated more charges could be coming soon for others, specifically saying they were reviewing charges against the suspect’s parents.
“We know that owning a gun means securing it properly and locking it and keeping the ammunition separate and not allowing access to other individuals, particularly minors.
“We have to hold individuals accountable who don’t do that.”
McDonald said Thursday the parents’ actions went “far beyond negligence.”
“The parents were the only individuals in the position to know the access to weapons,” McDonald told WJR-AM. The gun “seems to have been just freely available to that individual.”
Bouchard said the suspect’s father had purchased the 9mm Sig Sauer SP 2022 gun four days before the shooting.
Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and a lawyer, said prosecutors would have to pursue a legal theory of criminal negligence in potentially charging the parents because the state does not have strict child access prevention laws like others have adopted.
While charging parents would also be a deterrent, Brown said, it shows a shifting blame in society and highlights what she sees as “a failure” to pass stricter federal gun laws, including being able to hold gun manufacturers liable.
“The prosecutor has to believe that juries will accept that gun violence is so common in our country, that school shootings are so common in our country, that the failure to safely store your gun is tantamount to rendering a potential death sentence to others if a child finds that gun,” she said.
Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Tim Willis said during the arraignment that videos were recovered from the suspect’s cellphone, including “a video made by him the night before the incident wherein he talked about shooting and killing students the next day at Oxford High School.”
Willis said authorities also found the suspect’s journal “detailing his desire to shoot up a school.”
A review of Crumbley’s social media accounts and other documents show he planned the shooting and “brought the handgun that day with the intent to murder as many students as he could,” Keast said.
McDonald said at a news conference that “there is a mountain of digital evidence, videotape, social media” and that she was “confident” there was premeditation to commit the crimes “well before the incident.”
During the hearing, Crumbley quietly sat alone on one side of a table, masked and wearing dark green jail attire. Over about 90 minutes, he stated his name and answered the judge’s questions briefly.
The 15-year-old suspect had been flagged twice by school personnel for “concerning behavior” before the attack, Bouchard said. The first time happened the day before the shooting and the second hours before the attack.
Bouchard said the suspect’s parents were brought to the school around 10 a.m. for a meeting with the student and school personnel, about three hours before the shooting.
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Authorities identified the victims as Tate Myre, 16, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Hana St. Juliana, 14, and Justin Shilling, 17.
Myre was remembered as a standout football player being recruited to play in college and an honor student.
Baldwin was an aspiring artist and a “smart, sweet loving girl,” her grandmother wrote on a GoFundMe.
St. Juliana “was one of the happiest and most joyful kids,” her father told McDonald. She was on the basketball and volleyball teams and loved learning how to cook, said Jennifer Curtis, who lived in her neighborhood.
Shilling was on the golf and bowling teams. He was “simply a pleasure to be around,” Anita’s Kitchen, a Middle Eastern restaurant where he worked, posted on Facebook.
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The suspect was charged with 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 in the commission of a felony.
McDonald said the terrorism charge is in relation to the horrors inflicted upon the rest of the school’s community who weren’t direct victims but still faced trauma.
“What about all the children who ran screaming, hiding under desks? What about all the children at home who can’t eat and can’t sleep and can’t imagine a world where they could ever step foot back in that school?” McDonald said.
McDonald acknowledged it was “not a usual, a typical charge.”
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Michigan’s 2002 anti-terrorism law defines an act of terrorism as a violent felony “dangerous to human life” and “that is intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or influence or affect the conduct of government or a unit of government through intimidation or coercion.”
Brown said terrorism charges in school shootings are not common but the prosecution of that charge could serve a sort of “deterrent effect.” She also said if it is successful, she could see prosecutors in other potential school shooting cases apply terrorism laws.
“The terrorism charge certainly should drive home the point … that school shootings for many parents and for the kids are acts of domestic terrorism. That’s how we feel.”
Contributing: Phoebe Wall Howard, John Wisely, Clara Hendrickson, Jennifer Dixon, Georgea Kovanis, Darcie Moran and Jeff Seidel, Detroit Free Press; The Associated Press