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Oxford school officials covered up culpability after massacre, lawsuit claims


Detroit — The family of a student killed in the Oxford school massacre filed a civil lawsuit Thursday against the district and several officials.

The father and older sister of Hana St. Juliana, 14, accused school district officials of manufacturing a cover story to justify letting accused killer Ethan Crumbley return to the classes despite the student exhibiting a "disturbing pattern of behavior." That includes an obsession with guns, access to firearms and being in the "throes of a mental health crisis."

The federal lawsuit is the first of its kind by relatives of a slain student and comes five months after prosecutors say Crumbley killed four students and wounded six others and a teacher during a Nov. 30 shooting spree at the high school.

The claim is at least the third civil lawsuit filed against the district since December, including a $100 million case filed on behalf of survivors.

The lawsuit Thursday accused school officials, including a counselor, of creating and increasing danger to students by letting Crumbley return to class. That includes warnings that he was watching video of a shooting while at school, searching online about bullets and writing “The thoughts won't stop. Help me . . . blood everywhere . . . My life is useless. . . The world is dead.”

Instead of detaining Crumbley, Dean of Students Nicholas Ejak and school counselor Shawn Hopkins let Crumbley return to class without searching his backpack, according to the lawsuit filed by father Hana's father Steve St. Juliana and sister Reina, 16, a junior who survived the shooting.

"Less than two hours later, (Crumbley) took his backpack into a bathroom and emerged with his loaded handgun," family lawyer Michael Pitt wrote. "He opened fire, killing four students, including fourteen-year-old Hana St. Juliana, and seriously injuring seven others."

The family is seeking unspecified punitive or exemplary damages under the state's wrongful death statute plus damages for medical, hospital, funeral and burial expenses. The lawsuit also seeks damages for physical and emotional pain and suffering.

The lawsuit also names former Superintendent Timothy Throne and current Superintendent Kenneth Weaver.

There was no immediate comment from school officials Thursday.

But in response to the earlier lawsuits, Oxford school officials have denied "they were negligent in any manner.” Their lawyer also has called the allegations false and said his clients would claim they are immune from liability.

The district has been criticized for releasing Crumbley, an Oxford High School sophomore, back into school after he was pulled from class when a teacher saw a disturbing drawing on his desk that depicted a gun, a bullet and a bleeding shooting victim.

Crumbley allegedly told counselors once he was taken to the office that his drawing was part of a video game he was designing and that he planned to pursue video game design as a career, Throne has said in a statement. Crumbley remained in the office for about 90 minutes and worked on school assignments while the school tried to reach his parents.

After speaking to parents James and Jennifer Crumbley in the school office and again to their son, Oxford school counselors concluded he did not intend on committing either self-harm or harm to others, Throne said. His parents were informed they had 48 hours to seek counseling for their child or the school would contact Child Protective Services. They were asked to take their son home for the day, but they "flatly" refused and left without their son, Throne said.

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St. Juliana's family alleges a high-level coverup by school officials followed the shooting.

"Specifically, the district has sought to avoid accountability by claiming it has a formal policy and practice of returning students to class unless there is a 'disciplinary' issue that can be used to either send them home or hold them in the counseling office, and since (Crumbley) did not present a 'disciplinary' issue, it had no choice but to return him to class," Pitt wrote.

The district's policy of using false justifications "demonstrates egregious deliberate indifference to the danger presented when a student such as (Crumbley), who the school knew was suicidal and presented a clear threat, is returned to the school environment," the family's lawyer wrote.

School officials have denied knowing Crumbley was suicidal, according to the lawsuit.

"In truth, the district did know that (Crumbley) was suicidal and possibly homicidal when he was released from the counselor’s office," Pitt wrote.

Crumbley has been charged with multiple felonies including first-degree murder and is being held without bond in the Oakland County Jail awaiting trial. His parents are jailed and face four counts each of involuntary manslaughter. 

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

Staff Writer Jennifer Chambers contributed.