Wounded student sues Oxford district over shooting, alleges negligence
A new federal lawsuit has been filed against Oxford Community Schools alleging negligence by top officials for weeks leading up to the Nov. 30 Oxford High shooting in which four students were killed and six others and a teacher wounded.
The most recent complaint was filed Thursday in Detroit U.S. District Court by Sandra Cunningham, whose daughter, Phoebe Arthur, an Oxford freshman, survived gunshot wounds to her neck and cheek allegedly fired by teen gunman Ethan Crumbley.
Arthur was standing 10 feet from the boys’ restroom where investigators say Crumbley emerged with a handgun and started firing apparently at random at students in the hallway.
At least six lawsuits have been filed on behalf of victims in state and federal court since the shooting alleging school officials failed in their duty to follow safe practices and protect children at the school.
Crumbley, 16, of Oxford is currently jailed and charged with felonies that carry up to life in prison on conviction. His trial was rescheduled Thursday to Jan. 17 in Oakland County Circuit Court.
“We have learned from this and other school shootings these incidents are predictable and preventable,” said Wolfgang Mueller, the attorney who filed the recent lawsuit and an earlier wrongful death complaint on behalf of the family of Madisyn Baldwin, 17, one of the slain students.
Mueller said Arthur has suffered nerve damage as a result of her wounds and will require ongoing medical treatment.
“She was spared more serious injuries because after she was wounded another student pulled her into a classroom and they locked the door,” Mueller said.
The complaint names the Oxford school district and former Superintendent Timothy Throne; Principal Steven Wolf; Dean of Students Nicholas Ejak and Shawn Hopkins, a counselor as creating a dangerous environment, including placing Crumbley back into the school population following a meeting with his parents in a counselor’s office.
The parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, had been called to the school the morning of Nov. 30 because of teachers’ concerns about their son’s behavior, including watching violent videos and searching for ammunition on his phone and scrawling disturbing drawings and words on his math homework.
Crumbley explained to officials he did not pose a threat to himself or others, shot guns as a hobby and the drawing was for a video game he was creating. Unconvinced school officials asked the teen’s parents to remove him from school and seek mental health counseling for their son. The couple refused, saying they had to work that day and Crumbley was handed his backpack and allowed to return to class.
Less than two hours later, investigators said he pulled a handgun his parents had purchased for him earlier in the month from his backpack, exited the restroom and began shooting.
The lawsuit said Ejak had to notice the backpack seemed unusually heavy — now believed because of the handgun and 48 rounds of ammunition inside it. For unknown reasons, officials — despite suspecting Crumbley displayed suicidal thoughts — “deliberately chose not search” the backpack, according to the complaint, and his parents never told anyone of the existence of the handgun.
“There were meetings and discussions over his previous behavior – clearly his parents were ill equipped to deal with the situation but there are professionals at school who have received special training on how to recognize patterns and how to respond.” Mueller said. “They have a deputy assigned to the school whose first actions would have been to search his locker and backpack for weapons.
“We have learned how to identify people like him,” Mueller said. “This lawsuit is also about what else has to be done, what is broken and how do we fix it.”
Mueller said instead, school officials ignored any training or policies, downplayed staff concerns about Crumbley’s apparent depression and actions — including bringing a severed bird’s head in a jar to school.
Instead, according to the lawsuit, on Nov. 16 two weeks before the shooting, school officials sent out an email to students and parents that “rumors” had been investigated by authorities and “there is absolutely no threat here at the HS … large assumptions were made from a few social media posts, then the assumptions evolved into exaggerated rumors.”
The lawsuit notes Throne “took to the Oxford HS loudspeaker and told students there was no credible threat to their safety.”
A Spanish teacher reported on Nov. 29 that Ethan Crumbley was using his cellphone during class to look up information on bullets. The teenager was called into a meeting with the teacher and Hopkins and advised that looking up bullets in the classroom was not “school appropriate behavior” according to the lawsuit.
His mother was called and left a voicemail message but told the incident had not been deemed a “disciplinary incident,” according to the lawsuit.