Victim Riley Franz, family to sue school district

December 9, 2021
Victim Riley Franz, family to sue school district
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DETROIT — A student shot in the neck during the Oxford High School shooting and her family plan to sue the school district, claiming school officials did not do enough to protect its students. 

The federal suit on behalf of Riley Franz and her family is asking the district for $100 million. Attorney Geoffrey Fieger said in a press release that he intends to file two suits on Thursday morning. Oxford Community Schools did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday morning.

Riley and her younger sister Bella, also named in the suit, are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the claim. Bella “narrowly escaped the bullets” and watched her sister get shot.

The suit follows one of the deadliest school shootings in the United States since 2018. Fifteen-year-old Ethan Crumbley is charged with tearing through Oxford High School with a handgun on Nov. 30, killing four students and wounding seven others in the school, including a teacher. Crumbley is in the Oakland County Jail. 

Parents and community members have asked why the district did not remove Crumbley from the school when he began to display troubling behavior.

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What’s in the suit?  

Defendants in the suit include the Oxford Community School District, Oxford High Principal Steven Wolf, Superintendent Tim Throne, two unnamed counselors, one unnamed staff member and two unnamed teachers.

The lawsuit claims school officials’ could have taken action to remove Crumbley from school after an educator spotted him searching for ammunition, and again after finding the gruesome note.

Similar suits have been filed following mass shootings in other states, with mixed success. 

After a shooter killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida, in 2018 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, the school district paid out $25 million to the families of 52 people affected by the shooting, settling in October of this year. 

In 2018, a judge threw out a case against the town of Newtown, Conn., and the town’s school district over the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, which left 26 people dead. The school was protected by government immunity, the judge ruled.

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Could school officials have done more?

Experts say the district could have removed Crumbley from the school as soon as he started showing troubling red flags described by Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, Superintendent Tim Throne and Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald. 

Over two days, Crumbley met with Oxford counselors twice, according to prosecutors. The first time, a teacher spotted the 15-year-old peering at images of ammunition on his cellphone, according to Bouchard.

The second time, a teacher spotted a note apparently belonging to Crumbley, which depicted a semiautomatic handgun with the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” anda sketch of someone bleeding. 

Crumbley explained the drawing was a part of a video game design, Throne has said. Officials insisted the student seek counseling. His parents refused to take him home for the day, wrote the superintendent in a letter to the community. And counselors did not “believe the student might harm others based on his behavior, responses and demeanor.”

Counselors sent him back to the classroom, according to Throne.

Immunity may also serve as a defense for Oxford school district officials. Michigan law grants immunity from civil liability to government agencies and employees.

But immunity is not a “blanket protection,” Attorney Stephen Drew, who is based in Michigan, said. Drew represented more than 100 sexual abuse victims of Larry Nassar in a civil suit against Michigan State University. Individuals can still be held liable for gross negligence, which is defined in the law as “Conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results.” 

This story is developing.

Follow Lily Altavena on Twitter: @LilyAlta.



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