LeDuff: As Oxford High gets the spotlight, where do we go from here?

December 01, 2021, 8:37 PM by  Charlie LeDuff

Students who died

Slain students, clockwise from top left: Tate Myre, Madisyn Baldwin, Justin Shilling, Hana St. Juliana

The text message arrived Tuesday afternoon and the world stopped.


My daughter is a student at an Oakland County high school. I thought it was an emergency alert from school administrators. I went numb. My baby is the one thing that matters to me. I wept.

After regaining some composure, I looked at the message again, looking for instructions. Only then did I realize the text was from another reporter.


If it were only that. Because now we're just broken. The death toll has climbed to four this afternoon, with seven injured.

Ethan Crumbley (Photo: Oakland County Sherrif's Office)

My friends in Oxford, I feel no less numb for you and your children. Your babies. They are the only thing that matters. I cry for you. I truly do.

I sit here at my desk, not as a calloused reporter who has covered a hundred shootings, but as a father absorbing the details of the carnage in Oakland County. Wondering, like most of us, where do we go from here?

Not an hour after the horror, we began the national puppet show of “thoughts and prayers,” gun control acrimony that leads nowhere, and calls for metal detectors and increased security at schools.

Nothing ever happens. There have been 28 incidents like this in America this year alone. Last year, three children a week were shot in Detroit on average. Guns are everywhere. I own them myself. But I lock mine away.

The question everyone seems to be asking is why? Why did the kid lose it? But the real question is how 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley gets his hands on a legally purchased 9mm Sig Sauer semiautomatic pistol and at least two clips of ammunition.

It was purchased by the boy's father last Friday, according to the Oakland County sheriff. So why wasn't it locked away, as every responsible gun owner knows?

I'm getting the details of Tuesday's horror not from the media but from social media. Posts and videos put up by parents and the children who attend Oxford High School.

Black Face Mask

There is a picture of the alleged gunman being placed in the back of a sheriff's cruiser. He is wearing a black face mask and a black hoodie, and I get the sickening tingle of the trenchcoat mafia from Columbine High School more than 20 years ago.

The most chilling from Oxford High -- or so it seemed -- was the video of what students thought was the 15-year-old killer knocking at the classroom door. It first circulated on social media. The students thought it was the shooter impersonating a sheriff's deputy, trying to convince a teacher to open it.

“Sheriff's office,” the calm voice is heard. “It's safe to come out.”

“We're not willing to take that risk right now,” a teacher replies.

“Come to the door and look at my badge, bro.”

“Bro.” That triggered suspicion. “Red flag,” says one student. He and his classmates ran out a window and ran across the courtyard to safety. 

It turns out it was really a plainclothes detective from the sheriff's department, Sheriff Michael Bouchard said at a press conference Wednesday. Crazy.   

Rumors Flowed

Rumors had been circulating around the school for the better part of a month. A severed deer head was dumped on the high school roof. Graffiti on the school walls. Murky social media posts intimating impending violence.

School administrators twice wrote to parents in November, reassuring them that the threats were unfounded. A Nov. 4 message is labeled "No Threat on Campus" and one eight days later is labeled "Concerns and rumors."

Now the sheriff says Crumbley and his parents met Tuesday morning with school officials to discuss concerning classroom behavior. The day before, they met with just Crumbley. 

Some students said they feared a calamity brewing. That said, a better job needs to be done monitoring social media in a world slowly emerging from its Covid coma. Cyberbullying and online threats are illegal in Michigan.

Sensing danger, many kids stayed home Tuesday instead of going to school, if online accounts are to be believed. One teenager told a local televison station that the alleged gunman was one of those kids who gets bullied.

That, of course, is no good reason. No reason at all.

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