Superintendent responds to tragic week’s events

Supt. Tim Throne addresses the district in a Dec. 2 recorded video statement. Screenshot

By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Tim Throne recorded a video message to the community late afternoon Dec. 2. It was his first public statement since a few terse comments at a press briefing the day of the mass shooting at Oxford High School Nov. 30.
“We have parents who sent their kids to school two days ago – and they’re never coming home,” Throne said from the high school performing arts center lobby. “To say that I am still in shock and numb is probably an understatement.”
Throne was somber and spoke slowly. “I could not be more proud of our staff, our teachers, our administration. We had administrators performing CPR. Our students did exactly as they had trained. While we had hoped that never in a million years we would have to pull this game plan out, we did. And I couldn’t be more proud.”
At several press conferences last week, both Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and Undersheriff Mike McCabe praised the school for its effective response. The sheriff’s office had last done ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) active shooter training with the school district in the fall of 2018, according to a series of Oxford Leader articles at the time.
“Because they carried out their game plan so well, this high school is a wreck right now,” Throne continued. “It’s like a war zone. And that’s okay, because they did exactly as they were told, trained, and executed the gameplan perfectly.”
Throne said it will take weeks before the building will be ready to reopen. He said Governor Whitmer is assisting them to get anything they need through the supply chain.
Many people have reached out, asking what they can provide the school district right now. “Time,” is his answer. “I’m asking for time to allow you and your sons and daughters to process this to mourn and grieve.”
He said the school district has been slow to communicate certain things because they are going “by the book,” waiting for the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices to share those things first. He said he would request the sheriff’s office release whatever security video footage they feel comfortable releasing. “I want you to know, and I want you to be as proud of your sons and daughters as I am, as our staff is, with what they did.”
(McCabe said it will take hundreds of hours to sift through all the security footage in the investigation, because the school is so well equipped with cameras.)
Throne confirmed that the apprehended student, Ethan Crumbley, and his parents met in the school’s office Nov. 30, but Throne insisted that “no discipline was warranted” and the student had no discipline record.
Details of that meeting were made public Dec. 3, the day following Throne’s video, when Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald charged the parents of the suspected shooter, James and Jennifer Crumbley, with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
It was learned that on Nov. 30, a teacher found a note on Ethan’s desk that alarmed her to the point that she took a picture of it on her cell phone. The note contained a drawing of person who had been shot twice and was bleeding. A handgun pointed at the words “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” Another section of the note contained a drawing of a bullet with the words “Blood everywhere.” Further down in the drawing were the words “My life is useless” and “the world is dead.”
A school counselor came to the classroom and removed Ethan and brought him to the office with his backpack, while he waited for his parents. When they arrived, they were shown the drawing and advised they were required to get their son into counseling within 48 hours. But they resisted the idea of taking Ethan home at that time. Instead, he was returned to the classroom and his bag was not inspected.
At a press conference, McDonald was asked if she was looking into charges against anyone else, including school officials. “The investigation is ongoing,” she said.
Another reporter asked how the suspect was allowed to go back to class given the circumstances. After a moment’s hesitation McDonald said, “I’m not going to give you a political answer, and I’m not going to cover for anybody and I’m just going to say what I think, and that is: of course he shouldn’t have gone back to that classroom. . . Of course he should not have been allowed to go back to that class.”
A lot people are angry at the schools because of this. “I’d be angry too,” McDonald said. “and I am. But that doesn’t mean that there’s a criminal culpability. But, yes I would be angry. I am angry. I’m angry as the prosecutor, I’m angry as a person that lives in this county. There were a lot of things that could have been so simple to prevent. . . Looking at that drawing, it is impossible to not to conclude that there was a reason to believe he was going to hurt somebody.”
In an open letter to the district Dec. 4, Throne offered the school’s version of events leading up to the shooting:
“On Nov. 29,” he wrote, “the suspect was discovered by a teacher to be viewing images of bullets on his cell phone during class. The suspect met with a counselor and another staff member and indicated he and his mother recently went to the shooting range and that shooting sports are a family hobby. Consistent with our school policies and procedures, the school attempted to make contact with the student’s mother to discuss the incident but did not initially hear back. The next day, his parents confirmed his account.
“On the morning of Nov. 30, a teacher observed concerning drawings and written statements that have been detailed in media reports, which the teacher reported to school counselors and the Dean of students. The student was immediately removed from the classroom and brought to the guidance counselor’s office where he claimed the drawing was part of a video game he was designing and informed counselors that he planned to pursue video game design as a career. The student’s parents were also called in. Because it was difficult to reach the parents, the student remained in the office for an hour and a half while counselors continued to observe, analyze and speak with the student. While waiting for his parents to arrive, the student verbalized his concern he would be missing homework assignments and requested his science homework, which he then worked on while in the office. At no time did counselors believe the student might harm others based on his behavior, responses and demeanor, which appeared calm. In addition, despite media reports, whether or not the gun was in his backpack has not been confirmed by law enforcement to our knowledge nor by our investigation at this time.
“While both of his parents were present, counselors asked specific probing questions regarding the potential for self-harm or harm to others. His answers, which were affirmed by his parents during the interview, led counselors to again conclude he did not intend on committing either self-harm or harm to others. The student’s parents never advised the school district that he had direct access to a firearm or that they had recently purchased a firearm for him.
“Counseling was recommended for him, and his parents were notified that they had 48 hours to seek counseling for their child or the school would contact Child Protective Services. When the parents were asked to take their son home for the day, they flatly refused and left without their son, apparently to return to work.
“Given the fact that the child had no prior disciplinary infractions, the decision was made he would be returned to the classroom rather than sent home to an empty house. These incidents remained at the guidance counselor level and were never elevated to the principal or assistant principal’s office. While we understand this decision has caused anger, confusion and prompted understandable questioning, the counselors made a judgment based on their professional training and clinical experience and did not have all the facts we now know. Our counselors are deeply committed longstanding school members who have dedicated their lives to supporting students and addressing student mental health and behavioral issues.”
Throne said he has asked for a third-party investigation to review all the events of the past week in order to provide “a full, transparent accounting of what occurred.” The investigation will include any and all interaction the suspect had with staff and students, and a review of reviewing attendance records and all communications that the district may have received.
At this time, the district agrees with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office assessment that previous incidents are unrelated, including the Nov. 4 incident when a deer head and red paint were found in the school’s courtyard and it was determined that there was no threat, despite rumors spread on social media.
The district has also asked an independent security consultant to review all district safety practices and procedures. An initial review including review of videotaped evidence show staff and students’ response to the shooter was efficient, exemplary and definitely prevented further deaths and injuries, Throne said. As a result locked doors and barricades, the suspect was not able to gain access to a single classroom.
Finally, Throne underscored the district’s efforts to make mental health professionals and grief counselors available for anyone who needs support. Information about counseling is available on the district’s website. Additionally, a 24/7 Resource and Crisis Helpline/Text/Chat remains available for anyone who would like to speak with professionally-trained Helpline volunteers from Common Ground at 1-800-231-1127.
“Thank you again for your outpouring of love and support for our Wildcat families during this incredibly difficult time,” Throne wrote in conclusion. “The unparalleled support from our community and neighboring communities gives me hope that we can and will persevere and emerge stronger. Please continue to pray for the victims and their families, the injured and pray for the strength to carry on in the days ahead.”

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