Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Sunday she is willing to review the Tuesday shooting at Oxford High School that left four students dead and injured seven other people after the district’s superintendent asked for a third-party probe over the weekend.
Nessel said her department was the “perfect agency” to investigate the shooting and communicated her offer to the Oxford Community School District via email Saturday after Superintendent Tim Throne requested a third-party review of the incident and the events leading up to it.
“I didn’t want to see the school district bring in a private law firm … where they are the client,” Nessel told The Detroit News. “I’ve seen it time and time again. They’re not fully independent investigations when that occurs.
“They’re internal investigations, and they don’t necessarily answer questions for the community, because oftentimes, they’re there to represent their client and their client is the school district.”
Nessel had not received a response from the district as of Sunday afternoon. The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Nessel said she had been in contact with Prosecutor Karen McDonald about a potential review as recently as Sunday morning. McDonald and Nessel are both Democrats.
The 15-year-old accused of the shooting, Ethan Crumbley, is being held in Oakland County Jail without bond and facing 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.
Crumbley was charged as an adult and is facing up to life in prison. Crumbley’s parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, were arrested early Saturday after evading police. The parents are charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter and face a combined $1 million bond.
Throne wrote a letter on Saturday to “Wildcat Nation,” saying an investigation was needed “because our community and our families deserve a full, transparent accounting of what occurred.”
“Many of our parents have understandably been asking for the school’s version of events leading up to the shooting. It’s critically important to the victims, our staff and our entire community that a full and transparent accounting be made,” Throne’s letter said.
“To that end, I’ve asked for a third-party investigation be conducted so we leave no stone unturned, including any and all interaction the student had with staff and students.”
Throne added an independent security consultant would review the district’s safety practices and procedures.
Nessel: AG can do own review
The department has statewide jurisdiction and does not need the district’s voluntary participation to conduct a review, the attorney general said, although its involvement would help produce a “much more meaningful” investigation.
“Obviously, we would much prefer to have cooperation of the school district, and the school district is saying they want to find out what happened here as well,” Nessel said. “They want to answer all of the questions that the members have and parents have, and we’re here to help answer those questions.”
An investigation run by the Attorney General’s Office could determine criminal intent and civil liability, Nessel said. The offices of the Oakland County prosecutor or sheriff investigate only criminal conduct.
Criminal consequences would not necessarily follow the investigation, Nessel said, but an investigation could determine whether certain school, district or state policies were violated.
Nessel stressed the importance of her department’s cooperation with the Michigan Department of Education and state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
In the event no violations were found, “it’s up to us then to maybe work with the Legislature, to work with the school, the Department of Education, to determine whether new policies and procedures need to be put into place, or new laws need to be put into effect, to better address the set of circumstances,” Nessel said.
Neither Chris Dorn, senior analyst with Macon, Georgia-based school safety center Safe Havens International nor Lawrence Dubin, an emeritus professor of law at the University of Detroit Mercy, saw any issues with Nessel leading the review. But Dubin said one of the most fruitful aspects of a review might be what it reveals about whether procedure was followed, not necessarily the separate criminal aspect.
“That investigation would not necessarily give rise to criminal charges, but would primarily give rise to a better understanding of what the school district should have done,” Dubin said.
“There’s sometimes a gap between finding what should have been done and whether there were any criminal acts.”
Nessel said she wanted to wait until after the four students’ funerals to speak with parents and other students at the school to decide a path forward for an investigation.
Analyst: Student’s record a key
It’s not unusual for a focused review of shooting incidents to determine what happened and what could have been done differently, Safe havens analyst Dorn said.
During reviews, investigators often uncover facts that were misreported or misremembered in the trauma of the shooting, he said. Or, in some cases, information that was covered up to protect people involved, Dorn said.
“It can be very useful to do these types of reviews simply because they’re complex incidents with a lot of information to cover,” Dorn said.
If he were doing the review, Dorn said he would want to review information on the suspect’s student record from prior years and prior schools as well as the school’s procedures related to threats and behavioral issues.
He said he’d also like more information on a meeting that took place Tuesday with Crumbley and his parents just before the shooting.
Before the meeting, a teacher at Crumbley’s school had reported being disturbed by a piece of paper she saw on his desk with the words: “the thoughts won’t stop, help me” and a drawing of a bullet and the phrase: “blood everywhere.”
The teen produced the note at the meeting with his parents, but it had been scribbled over in several places in an attempt to hide its contents, officials said.
Oxford school officials showed his parents the drawings and said they were required to get their son into counseling in the next 48 hours. They asked the parents to remove the teen from the school that day.
But the parents left the school without him, and the teen was allowed to remain at school, prosecutors allege, with a semi-automatic gun presumably inside his backpack.
On Thursday, the district’s superintendent maintained that no discipline was in order for Crumbley leading up to the attack.
“There are no discipline records at the high school,” Throne said. “Yes, this student did have contact with our front office, and yes, his parents were on campus Nov. 30. I will take any and all questions at a later time. But that’s not now.”
On Nov. 29, a teacher at the school reported that Ethan Crumbley was searching for ammunition on his phone. The school reached out to Jennifer Crumbley but never heard back from the parents.
Jennifer Crumbley later allegedly texted her son about the episode: “LOL, I’m not gonna get mad at you, you have to learn to not get caught.”
School safey analyst Dorn said, “Those reports are particularly troubling, and you’ll want to know what happened internally. What really stands out is how clear the need was for immediate action.”
Staff Writer Amelia Benavides-Colón contributed.