November 30, 2021, amid a resurgence of debate and reporting about COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant, a tragic incident shook the United States. The community of Oxford High School in Oakland County, Michigan, was victim to a school shooting perpetrated by fifteen-year-old Ethan Crumbley. Crumbley killed four students between the ages of fourteen and seventeen and injured seven other people. The school’s community and the entire nation are now left mourning the deadliest school shooting in three years—and the 28th shooting of 2021.
Just days after the shooting, Crumbley was charged with 24 crimes including first-degree murder and terrorism. His parents were also charged with involuntary manslaughter, accused of failing to act to prevent a situation that had an unreasonable risk of harm to others.
The couple bought their son the handgun he used in the shooting just four days before the incident as an “early Christmas gift.” Ethan was reported by a teacher on Monday (the day before the shooting) for searching online for ammunition during class. His mother was contacted twice. She failed to respond to school administration and instead texted her son, “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” The day of the shooting, Ethan was removed from his classroom after drawing a handgun and writing, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” and “My life is useless, the world is dead.”
Crumbley’s parents were subsequently brought into the school and told to seek counseling for their son within 48 hours. Neither parent asked Crumbley if he had his handgun. They did not check his bag. Instead, they refused to take him home, leaving Ethan behind, against the recommendations of the school. Later that day, Crumbley went into a bathroom with his backpack, exited with a gun, and began shooting at random in the hallways.
Oxford High School administration recognized the threat that Crumbley posed. They took action and attempted to avert a calamity. School officials sought help and requested the support of his parents, but they did not require his immediate removal. This small distinction between request and require resulted in tragedy. Administrators made a fatal mistake and returned Crumbley to his classes.
Hot debate has erupted regarding all aspects of the tragic shooting, but, as more details arise, people have begun to question Oxford High School’s actions. Although the school attempted to intervene in the situation, contacted Crumbley’s parents, and asked that he be taken to counseling, Crumbley was allowed to return to class after his parents declined to take him home.
Upper School Head Mr. Mark Fifer shared that although every situation is different, in situations like these Haverford administrators will “err on the side of caution when concerns [about threats to school safety] are brought to [their] attention… every piece of information needs to be engaged with in a deliberate, intentional manner.”
Mr. Fifer also emphasized the importance of the school’s relational model and the importance of connections with advisors and other trusted adults.
“What we try to rely on and leverage are the relationship structures that we have in the school so that students feel comfortable sharing information,” Mr. Fifer said.
“It’s so important to have a venue by which [the administration] can direct information [about safety concerns]… to make sure that kids are emotionally safe… and physically safe as well.”Mr. mark Thorburn
Assistant Head of School Mr. Mark Thorburn also shared how important these relationships are to the school.
“It’s so important to have a venue by which [the administration] can direct information [about safety concerns]… to make sure that kids are emotionally safe… and physically safe as well,” Mr. Thorburn said.
As the country continues to grieve the murdered students, discussions regarding school safety and gun control have taken center stage in national discord and debate once more. Not only are parents forced to think about their children’s safety in school, but children are forced to consider their safety at their daily “workplace.”
Fifth Former Ethan Chan says that the recent uptick in school shootings around the nation is “quite alarming” even though “the threat is not apparent [to him] every day.”
As these issues lurk in the back of students’ minds, students and administrators alike consider how the Haverford community should address them.
Third Former Connor Simpkins believes that “discussing school safety and violence is tricky.” While he believes that it is an important topic to address, he expressed that “[safety in schools] shouldn’t be on the forefront of our minds in a way that would be a distraction to our learning.”
Chan, meanwhile, believes that students need to discuss these issues more. He believes that students’ comfort and confidence at school and their mental state are important topics.
“Men’s and boys’ mental health is not talked about enough, and creating a space where everyone can feel even a bit more comfortable to open up [about their feelings] would help a lot,” Chan says.
“We’re always trying to figure out the correct calibration in order for students to feel safe in a school environment.”Mr. Mark Fifer
Mr. Fifer is attempting to address both Simpkins’s and Chan’s concerns as well as others from the student body.
Mr. Fifer says that the administration has to “[think] carefully about how [safety] is discussed in the school community…We’re always trying to figure out the correct calibration in order for students to feel safe in a school environment.” He believes that certain conversations have forums in which they should be discussed and some don’t. Similar to Simpkins, Mr. Fifer expressed concerns about these discussions becoming distractions to learning. “You don’t want to get into a situation [where] students [feel] paralyzed by fear… which can happen when attention is drawn to [school shootings].” Mr. Fifer said.
As the Haverford community confronts the effects of a shooting at another school, safety protocols have certainly been a prominent topic, but Mr. Thorburn shared that these protocols are always adapting—not just in the aftermath of a tragedy.
“We’re always looking at [reports on school shootings] to see how [they] could’ve been prevented, what kind of strategies they could’ve put in place to mitigate,” Mr. Thorburn said. “It’s a constant evaluation.”
While our school community has the luxury of debating where, when, and how to discuss school shootings, The Oxford High School community does not. Their protocol, regardless of intention, failed to keep their students safe: four people have lost their lives and countless others are forever traumatized. Nothing can ever repair these losses.
As Haverford administration continues to work tirelessly to keep the community safe, we must remember to appreciate all those working on our behalf and, together mourn the lost lives at Oxford High School.