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'It's not just negligent, it's unforgiveable': Lawyer says Oxford High ignored several 'red flags' ahead of school shooting

Attorney Ven Johnson said sworn depositions revealed that some school staff were aware of the disturbing interest in guns and violence leading up to the shooting.

DETROIT — It's been nearly 10 months since four students were shot and killed at Oxford High School. Now, an attorney for several of the victim's families revealed new evidence in the case against the school, saying they were negligent for not intervening before the tragedy happened on November 30, 2021.

Ven Johnson, who represents the families of Tate Myre and Justin Schilling, said that sworn depositions revealed that that the school had several indications of the shooter's troubling mindset leading up to the shooting. Johnson and the families said they're adamant this could have been avoided.

"I don't see any excuse for not taking these red flags seriously," said Jill Soave, the mother of Justin Schilling. "To me this is beyond neglect, it's unforgiveable."

Johnson spent more than an hour Thursday detailing a timeline of disturbing "red flags" at Oxford High School leading up to November 30, when 16-year-old Ethan Crumbley allegedly shot and killed Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana, Madisyn Baldwin, and Justin Shilling, and injured several others. 

"One of the greatest and biggest questions and mysteries of all is, did Ethan Crumbley show signs of problems before? The answer is yes, he did," said Johnson. 

He said that sworn depositions revealed that some teachers and a counselor at the school were aware of Crumbley's disturbing interest in guns and violence in the months leading up to that tragic day. He filed a civil lawsuit earlier this year against the school district, and said this new evidence proves their case even more. 

Johnson explained that depositions are sworn testimony with a court reporter and witnesses are questioned under oath with lawyers from both sides present. He said, "depositions are a huge part of what we do. It's how we gain access to information of what these witnesses know and don't know or at least what they claim they know and don't know."

"So first and foremost, what we now know is this: from literally the beginning of school, Ethan Crumbley was evidencing signs of being a highly troubled individual, to say the least." 

According to sworn depositions the first warning sign was in just the first few days of school in late August 2021. It was then that one teacher said Crumbley drew what looked like a gun magazine on a note card, and that in a survey response, Crumbley said that one of his favorite books was "Making Bombs for Hitler," and that "Dexter" and "Breaking Bad" were two of his favorite television shows. That teacher said she didn't see the drawing on the note card until the day before the shooting. 

Just over a week later, Crumbley's Spanish teacher wrote in an email to a school counselor that as part of an autobiographical poem assignment, Crumbley wrote that he "feels terrible and that his family is a mistake." The teacher asked that counselor to "touch base" with Crumbley. Johnson said there was no follow up to that email and the counselor never spoke to Crumbley.

RELATED: Family of Oxford shooting victim files lawsuit against school district, officials

Fast forward to November 29, the day before the shooting. Depositions revealed that an English teacher reported seeing Crumbley looking at ammunition on his phone while in class. 

"I had a student during first hour today, Ethan Crumbley, who was on his phone looking at different bullets at the end of the first hour today as I was walking around the room and passing out their essays," her email read. "Now that he's on my radar, I'm noticing that some of his previous work he's completed from earlier in the year leans a bit toward the violent side."

On the morning of the shooting, a special education teacher sent an email to other school staff saying, "Today he's (Crumbley) watching videos on his phone of a guy gunning down people. It looks like a movie scene and not security footage or a real event, but definitely concerning when taking into account all of his behaviors."

A math teacher also sent an email to school staff that morning after she found a Crumbley's drawing of a person with bullet wounds and blood with the words "the thoughts won't stop. Help me."

The school counselor then pulled Crumbley from class, and his parents were called. When they got there, Crumbley said he was worried about getting his chemistry homework finished, so the counselor went and got his backpack from the classroom. Depositions reveal that one of the teachers made a comment out loud about how heavy the backpack was. Ven Johnson said that had they looked inside, they would have found the gun, magazines, and Crumbley's journal or manifesto. 

After the 13-minute meeting with school staff, Crumbley's parents refused to take him home, but were told to get their son counseling. 

It was just hours later that Crumbley is alleged to have used the gun in his backpack to open fire on his classmates. 

"There are four angels that are gone, and I can't find an excuse for dropping the ball again and again and again," said Soave. "This could have and should have been avoided, these children should have been with us here today."

The depositions also revealed that one of Crumbley's classmates told the sheriff that on the Thursday before the shooting Crumbley told him quote "if I ever tell you not to come to school some time, don't."

"Anyone with any kind of common sense could see that something was very wrong," said Jill Soave. 

"Are they (the school) admitting that they screwed up, of course they're not," Johnson said, "but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that they were negligent and that they were grossly negligent."

"So many people are still saying that the the school did nothing wrong," said Meghan Gregory, whose son, Keegan was just a freshman when the shooting happened, and hid in the bathroom while he watched Justin Schilling get gunned down. "So I think this was very eye-opening to see the failures on many of their parts."

She too agreed with Johnson, saying that school staff had so many opportunities to intervene. 

"Should they have been concerned after this drawing? Yes. Two drawings? Yes," said Johnson. "My life is useless? Yes. A drawing of a dead body bleeding all over? Yes."

Especially as Johnson said one teacher wrote that Crumbley's actions were "definitely concerning when taking into account some of his other behaviors."

"If that was happening at my home and a child came in and showed my children bullets or drew pictures of guns, I would certainly not want that child around my children," said Meghan Gregory. "There is no excuse to not have taken his actions further, to not dig into them."

"By showing what was not done, hopefully we can draw attention to it so that folks in the future won't make these mistakes again," Johnson added. 

The 16-year-old alleged shooter has been in the Oakland County Jail since he was arrested last year, and is due back in court on October 20. His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, were charged with involuntary manslaughter and have pleaded not guilty.

Attorney Ven Johnson presents more evidence in Oxford shooting lawsuit:

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