Final Oxford High School Shooting Report Released
The 572-page report determined the fatal shooting could have been prevented if the district’s threat assessment policies had been followed.
OXFORD, Mich. — A 572-page report released Monday by independent investigators determined the fatal 2021 shooting at Oxford High School could have been avoided if the district followed its threat assessment and suicide intervention policies.
Guidepost Solutions, a New York-based firm that specializes in investigations, compliance, and security, noted in its report that employees at all levels in Oxford Community Schools, including former Superintendent Timothy Throne, “failed to provide a safe and secure environment.”
“Missteps at each level throughout the District — from the Board, to the Superintendent, to the OHS administration, to staff — snowballed to create a situation where a student’s communications and conduct should have triggered a threat assessment and suicide intervention on November 30, but did not,” the report said. “None of these mistakes were intentional. But costly mistakes they were.”
The report outlines what went wrong before, during, and after the shooting. It emphasizes that the 15-year-old shooter should have been sent home on Nov. 30 when counselors called his parents in for a meeting after a teacher discovered a drawing with a gun and the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” The drawing also contained an image of a bullet with the words, “Blood everywhere.”
After the meeting, the shooter’s parents declined to take him home but were told to get him counseling within 48 hours. Their son had his father’s semi-automatic handgun in his backpack and opened fire about two hours after they left the school. Killed in the shooting were students Tate Myre, 16, Hana St. Juliana, 14, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Justin Shilling, 17. Six other students and a teacher were injured.
The report specifically calls out members of the school district’s administration for failures involving the district’s threat assessment process. While investigators found the district had adopted threat assessment policies, there were significant shortfalls in executing these policies.
The report largely places blame on Throne, who was charged with creating such guidelines, and the school board, which should have ensured its policies were implemented, Detroit Free Press reports. Specifically, it notes that Throne failed to make it evident which district administrators were responsible for threat assessments.
“We found that OHS administrators, faculty, and staff were unaware of the District’s threat assessment policy or the District’s threat assessment form,” the report reads. “That is a significant failure, one that rests primarily with Superintendent Throne, who as the District’s chief executive officer is ultimately responsible for ensuring that building-level administrators know about and are following the District’s policies.”
The report also notes the district failed to assess the shooter using its suicide intervention protocol, which was also out of date. Counselor Shawn Hopkins and Dean of Students Nicholas Ejak should have elevated concerns about the shooter to Oxford High School’s principal and assistant principals, the report said.
Oxford Incident Response and Recovery Findings
During the incident, the report found no one was monitoring the more than 90 security cameras in the school, impeding the ability to “broadcast ongoing messaging regarding the Shooter’s location and movements” to students and staff.
“We found no plan for monitoring school cameras in an active shooter situation inside the school or in any other emergency, and accordingly, there was no staff member assigned to this task,” according to the review.
The investigators scoured through security footage of the incident and noted they saw “extraordinary acts of bravery and kindness” by personnel, including Assistant Principal Kristy Gibson-Marshall, who “tried to keep Tate Myre alive,” Assistant Principal Kurt Nuss, who “frantically directed first responders to aid wounded students,” and then-Deputy Superintendent Kenneth Weaver, who “comforted injured students as they lay in the hallway.”
The report notes that many current and former Oxford Community Schools employees did not cooperate with the investigation, and describes efforts by the lawyers for the district and the teachers union to discourage people from cooperating. Guidepost reached out to 161 people for interviews but 70 refused or did not respond, including most of the shooter’s former teachers.
Former board members told ProPublica that they worried if they didn’t heed the advice of district lawyers, the school’s insurer would rescind coverage. Given these concerns, the report suggests legislation that explicitly prevents insurers from denying coverage to public schools and their employees if they participate in an independent investigation into school shootings.
The firm asked the district to require employees to participate but the district refused, says the report. Some school leaders allegedly encouraged staff to participate in interviews with a consultant but the school board made it voluntary rather than a condition of employment. The report also specifically calls out seven district employees who were not interviewed but played a significant role in the events surrounding the shooting, noting it “hindered our ability to conduct the investigation effectively.”
The report attributes refusals to be interviewed to concerns regarding ongoing lawsuits. In March, a Michigan judge ruled Oxford Community Schools and its staff cannot be sued in civil court regarding the shooting, arguing they are protected by governmental immunity. Federal lawsuits naming the district and the two officials who were present in the meeting with the shooter and his parents are still being litigated, according to ProPublica.
Family members of the four students killed, as well as student survivors, sat down with investigators and consistently told them they were disappointed by the transparency and support they received from the district. Several school board members resigned after the shooting and have also questioned the district’s transparency around the shooting.
“Our options became clear that we could either go along and stay silent, or we could move along and be a voice for change,” said former school board treasurer Korey Bailey. “Remaining silent was not being honest or transparent.”
The morning after the report was released, Renee Upham, an Oxford mother and former teacher at the district’s middle school, wrote an email to school officials urging them to apologize to students, staff members, and families. Upham shared the email with ProPublica.
“The report is damning,” Upham wrote. “At its core, it shows failures going back years that could have prevented the murder of four children and the injuries, both physical and emotional, of others.”
After allowing “two years to pass before the truth came out,” Upham said the district now has a chance to own it.
“Please do so,” she said. “That is what authentic leadership is.”
On Thursday, Guidepost hosted three town hall meetings to answer questions the community’s questions about the report findings.
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