by Buddy Bell
Oxford, Mich.—In a school north of Detroit a group of Oxford High School students called a press conference on Nov. 21, two years after a student there shot dozens of their peers in school bathrooms and hallways, killing four. “We have been silenced and denied the right for healing and accountability for far too long,” said student Giselle Gilliam. She called for trauma recovery services and a physical memorial. “We’ve been told not to talk about the shooting out of fear of triggering each other. We have been silenced. We want the people who have been trained to help us with this to help us and do their jobs.” On Nov. 28, students packed into a school board meeting to demand removal of four school board members who, as indicated in an independent investigation, did not take preventive steps that could have prevented the shooting.
A concluding section of the investigative report states that the school board and district superintendent failed to “identify threat assessment team members and roles, require threat assessment team members to receive appropriate training, or define the nature and type of concerning behaviors or communications that would trigger a threat assessment” (p. 414).
WARNING SIGNS TRAGICALLY MISSED
Tragically, many warning signs were missed. The shooter was sent to a counselor’s office the day before the shooting for viewing ammunition on his tablet (211). His public social media posts showed pictures of himself with a new handgun, along with the statement, “See you tomorrow, Oxford” (202). In a later class, the shooter brought out casings and live rounds and stood them up on his desk (238). The day of the shooting he again was sent to a counselor’s office for viewing a video of people shooting other people (257) and for violent drawings and messages on a math paper (263). The shooter left his backpack containing a handgun in the classroom. It was carried from the classroom to the office by the dean of students (280), but at no point was it searched. No threat assessment was conducted and the shooter was never asked if he had access to weapons. He was allowed to return to class, chiefly due to a general reluctance to interfere with the culture of hunting existing at this rural high school. Several staff named in the report have resigned. Some refused to speak with the special investigators.
Students made public comments to the school board on Nov. 28: “You were responsible for keeping us safe. We trusted you. You will never earn that trust back.” “It’s not appropriate for you to be here, to show your faces in this district. Leave, resign. We don’t want you here.” The students plan to start a petition and vow to keep coming to board meetings until the board members resign.
Oxford students also want lessons to be learned from their tragedy. “I want other districts in the state and the nation to take threats seriously and do what they can to protect students,” said Oxford junior Courtney Hall. In the wake of a successfully avoided shooting in St Johns, Fla., many Detroit area schools were shut down temporarily over “copycat” threats.