'It was just terrifying': Students describe surviving Oxford High School shooting

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Oxford — Catherine Tebben had just finished lunch and had two minutes to get to her next class at Oxford High School when gunshots rang out inside her school and students began running toward her.

The 17-year-old junior said a friend grabbed her by the hand and she began running for her life through the school in northern Oakland County.

"I see blood all over the floor. I run out to the parking lot, get into my truck and come here, shaking and start crying because I don't know where (my boyfriend) is or any of my friends," Tebben said outside the Meijer store in Oxford where some parents were reunited with children. 

Tebben's boyfriend, 18-year-old senior Josh Couch, was also inside the school when police say an unidentified 15-year-old sophomore opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol, killing three students and wounding eight other people, including one teacher. 

Students and adults hug in the parking lot at the Meijer store in Oxford after a school shooting at Oxford High School on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.

Like many students engulfed in the ensuing chaos, Couch, who plays on the football team, had yet to hear from several teammates by mid-afternoon. “Trying to find our captain running back and our captain linebacker now. I can't find them anywhere,” he said. “Nobody can get a hold of them.”

Other students, including Barrett Dolata, recalled the strange sound of gunshots inside the school and had noticed a teacher rescuing two students standing in the hallway as the shooter moved through school.

Dolata had walked into his fifth-hour biology class just before 1 p.m. on Tuesday when he heard a succession of gunshots ring out inside his high school.

Dolata's teacher sprang into action, he said, grabbing two girls who were in the hallway, pulling them inside her classroom and shutting the door, then activating a night lock system that prevents unwanted intruders from entering a classroom.

Dolata, a 17-year-old senior, said he, his fellow students and his teacher ran to the corner of the room and squeezed together, sitting on the floor — and waited as the gunman roamed the hallways of Oxford High School for what Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe said was about five minutes. 

“I heard gunshots like for a minute or two ... it had to be at least 20 gunshots," he said. "At first, it doesn’t even sound or feel real. I was in complete shock.”

After waiting a few minutes, Dolata said he and others began barricading classroom doors with their oversized and heavy science desks.

"We flipped them over and barricaded the doors," he said. "We sat and all called our parents and were texting.”

Dolata, who spoke to The Detroit News just hours after the shooting, said he felt like he was in shock. He was close to where the shooting occurred, he said.

“I could almost feel it it was so close to my class. ... I don’t know how to feel about the situation right now."

Like many Michigan students, Dolata said he has been trained in active shooter drills in school and knew to barricade the doors and gather in a corner.

“There are three doors in the classroom, and we had to make sure they were all barricaded. It was scary. It was just terrifying,” he said.

Dolata said the authorities escorted students out of the school, patted them down and searched their backpacks before releasing them. He said he was eventually reunited with his parents and hugged them.

Fire trucks block North Oxford Road at Oxford High School on Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 30, 2021. Scores of police, fire and EMS personnel responded to a shooting that killed three students and wounded eight others inside the school.

Dozens of parents gathered for much of the afternoon at the nearby Meijer store searching for their children. Many were happily reunited, running into each other's arms, while others waited for news or left in tears as emergency vehicle sirens and lights filled the cold November air.

Aaron Carpenter, an Oxford High School football coach, waited with parents Tuesday afternoon as students were bused to the Meijer store to be joined with their families.

"They are pretty shook up," said Carpenter of his own two children, a senior and a freshman. "My youngest saw the whole thing in a classroom."

In a video posted on TikTok on Tuesday, a classroom of students at Oxford High could be seen hiding in a locked or barricaded classroom and later escaping through a school window after refusing to open the door to someone who identified himself as law enforcement.

In the video, a male voice said, “Sheriff’s Office. It’s safe to come out,” but students were leery and responded: “We are not willing to take that risk right now.”

The voice outside the door said, "Just open the door ... bro.” The students became suspicious the person wasn't law enforcement and began rushing to a window and exiting the classroom all at once.

They ran across open space outside the school to another door where a sheriff's deputy escorted them inside.

Cori McCarthy, a parent of three children in Oxford schools, came to the Meijer parking lot to support other families and students who needed a ride home after the shooting.

Her three children were home from school on Tuesday, including two who attend Oxford High.

"I am going back home and am going to keep on hugging my kids. And I am going to keep them home. You think you are safe, not my town. And apparently, it comes," McCarthy said.